31 December 2012

Pinotage in 2012

2012 saw Pinotage consolidating its position in the world of wine. We reported it growing commercially in Switzerland, Maryland USA and Queensland, Australia, also on an experimental basis in Ohio, USA. Virginia planted more, as did California, although the status of the oldest vineyard there is unknown after the owners, Steltzner, sold their Napa Valley winery. 

Meanwhile, California's Loma Prieta winery 2010 Pinotage was festooned with a dozen gold medals and decided to graft over a Pinot Noir vineyard to Pinotage.

Decanter awarded its best red varietal over £10 Trophy to Bellingham Pinotage 2010, and Barkan had double success when their Pinotage won the Grand Champion Trophy for the Best Israeli Wine in Competition and Best Kosher Israeli Wine at the Terravino Mediterranean International Wine and Spirit Challenge.

Leading international mail-order wine merchant Laithwaites launched an own label £65 single vineyard Pinotage made by  Flagstone which was criticised by journalist Christian Eedes as maybe “a little too perfect”.

Diemersfontein winery brought their popular Pinotage on Tap  festival to England for the first time and were rewarded with a stunningly beautiful summers weekend without a cloud in the sky.  

A rapt audience heard about and tasted Pinotage at my presentation to the American Wine Society annual conference in Portland, Oregon.

Flagstone and Aaldering both launched white Pinotages, entering the category invented by Mellasat whose Enigma has for years had the market to itself.  

During the year I drank many great Pinotages and tasted many more. I was going to list my ‘most memorable’ or ‘wines of the year’  but there are too many. So I’ll just capriciously mention one that got away – the beautiful Houdamond 2009 (Bellevue Estate, rebadged for UK Marks and Spencer) that was served at my wine tasting club’s annual dinner and dance. M&S branches were cleared by club members days afterwards and I managed to get only a few bottles and now have just one left. 

Michael Fridjhon, writing in Business Day over Christmas, notes that New World wineries with an established track record get less respect than fashionable newcomers. 

So let me respect two long established wineries.  In the past couple of days I enjoyed Uiterwyk Estates DeWaal ‘Top of the Hill’ 2006 and Kaapzicht Estate ‘Steytler’ 2002. Both were ripe claret in style, four square and linear. Steytler's back label suggests a drinking window of up to eight years after vintage but this wine is just delicious ten years on. ‘Top of the Hill’ is a single vineyard bottling from the oldest Pinotage vineyard and at six years the wine is still a youngster.

Enjoy a Pinotage Packed 2013!


Peter May

09 December 2012

IWSC & Cape Blend WInners

Congratulations to all at Kaapzicht Estate for winning the 2012   Abraham Perold Trophy for Pinotage at the International Wine & Spirit Competition with Kaapzicht Estate ‘Steytler’ Pinotage 2008, of which the judges said:

Opaque with bright purple rim. Intense nose packed with ripe berries where raspberry features strongly along with plum and prune. Big and burly in the mouth with a load of new oak. Lots of spice. As big as it is it has fine balance and well ordered tannins. Approachable now yet has lots of potential over next six to ten years.


Congratulations are also due to the three winners of the 2012 Absa Cape Blend Competition

Beyerskloof Faith 2009
KWV Perold Tributum 2010
Windmeul Reserve Cape Blend 2010

02 December 2012

Visiting Fort Ross Vineyards, California

Fort Ross Vineyards are just north of the Russian River where it flows into the sea. After a few miles of driving along the twisty coastal highway, Route 101, with its distracting dramatic coastal scenery, and going around hairpin bends where the road is shored up against slippage you come to Meyers Grade Road, which surprisingly is a better road to drive on than the main coastal highway. There’s a small sign on Rte 101 pointing to wine tasting 3.5 miles along the road, and that is Fort Ross.

The property is large, a hundred square acres, spread over the top of the high hills. After entering by the Fort Ross sign you drive along a narrow path, through an electric gate and past a pond to the tasting room on the edge of a steep drop.

The smart building was opened just three months before we arrived and is managed by the affably professional Damien who pours with panache.

I met owners Linda and Lester Schwartz, transplants from South Africa, who had also transplanted Pinotage bud-wood direct from South Africa, rather than acquiring vines from commercial nurseries. This process took five years of quarantine before they could start to plant.

Lester drove me to see the vineyards, through forests thinning because the once dominant Tan Oak trees are dying of a virus. On steep slopes are clearings where Lester planted his vines. He’s had to terrace the steepest hills and some of the vineyards reminded me of those lining the Rhine in Germany.
The vintage has passed and the leaves are golden yellow. Here and there is a  bunch of Pinotage grapes left by the pickers and now wizened. We chewed them and experienced a sweet jammy flavour. There were also grapes from a second flowering, green at the time of harvest, and now ripe but dismissed by Lester as no good. But they did taste good to me.

At the top of one hill is a reservoir. Lester wasn’t allowed to place it lower down where it would collect run-off water, but can only collect what rain falls into it. Which seemed to be a lot.

We were promised far distant views from the highest peak but as the car strained up a near vertical dirt track between vines we saw clouds moving rapidly in the trees on surrounding hills and within moments the sun had vanished and visibility closed in. We had to descend before rain made the tracks unsafe.

Back in the tasting room, which has great coastal views when clear of clouds, we tasted three Fort Ross Pinotages. The wines are made by Jeff Pisoni, of Pisoni Vineyards and Winery but not here at this building which is too remote.

Linda told me she only releases her wines when she considers them ready. 2007 is the most recent vintage; also available is 2005 and 2006. Linda says Pinotage is tannic and needs time for the tannins to soften.

2005 – Just released. Soft, very soft with a gentle spiciness

2006 – Tad sharp edge to it and a tannic finish, I’d give it little more bottle age.

2007 –  Mature nose but this is fruitier spicier with brighter tannins. Fort Ross kindly supplied their 2007 vintage for my Pinotage seminar at the American Wine Society conference where it received many compliments.
It was great to meet Linda and Lester after communicating with them over  many years via email and to taste their Pinotage at last after reading so many complimentary reviews of them. 
I want to return during summer and see the views from the top of the vineyards and drink more Fort Ross Pinotage..

17 November 2012

Pinotage Club a Top 10 Blog

I am intrigued and surprised to be informed that this blog has been

“selected by Cision, a global media intelligence provider, to be included in this week’s Cision’s Top 10 Wine Blogs.

Every week, we carefully monitor a selected topical blogosphere in the UK and apply our in-house methodology to identify and rank these blogs accordingly.”

The list is

Wine Blogs – UK Top 10

Posted: November 15, 2012 at 12:13 pm

The Top 10 UK Wine blogs was last updated 15/11/2012.
1.        Spittoon

2.        jamie goode’s wine blog
3.        Wine Conversation
4.        Jim’s Loire
7.        Berrys’ Wine Blog
8.        The Pinotage Club
9.        Confessions of a Wino

 Surprised because not only is this blogging on a very niche subject, specialising in a non-mainstream cultivar, but few realise it originates from the UK as it is about a mostly South African wine on a blog hosted on a US server. It’s assumed by most to be a South African blog, yet not eligible to enter the South African wine blog competition.

Intrigued because I’ve not encountered Cision.com before, yet note they are offering “in-depth profiles for these Top 10 Wine Blogs, their authors...”

As far as I know they have no in-depth information about me — but I can’t read what they have because they charge for access to the info. I do not, so if you want to know about this blog or me, just ask. My contact email is (and  has always been) on this site – see under my photo at the top right.

Meanwhile I will bask in the glory of being place one point under the highly professional Berry Bros and Rudd blog and above the very readable Confessions of a Wino and the laid-back affable Wine Maestro himself, Brett Jones.    

11 November 2012

Pinotage at AWS Conference

This is the scene from the rear of the room where I am about to start my presentation on Pinotage to the annual conference of the American Wine Society in Portland, Oregon on the north western coast of America.

I have a limited time, just 75 minutes.

My two-fold aim is to give the facts and dispell the myths about Pinotage that are endlessly repeated on the web, and secondly to let people taste for themselves a selection of good Pinotages.

I am lucky that I am able to present some first rate examples, generously donated by wineries in South Africa (Silkbush, Fairview, Simonsig and Beyerskloof), California (Fort Ross and Loma Prieta) and Virginia (Lovingston).

Not only a geographical spread of wines, but also we can compare  unwooded and wooded versions, value wines and reserve barrel selections.

I received much enthusiastic feedback from attendees who said the wines had been a revelation.

01 November 2012

Fringe Wine Reviews Pinotage

Fringe Wine is a site that investigate the origins of grape varieties and tries to untangle the confusion of names and history. I find it fascinating and a real resource. Writer Rob Tebeau, based in Boston USA,  is a dilgent researcher with a inquiring mind and I like the way he backs up his conclusions by naming his sources.

When he wrote about Pinotage recently his main reference was my book, and he also gives the book a review. Have a look at http://fringewine.blogspot.com/2012/10/pinotage-stellenbosch-south-africa.html

31 October 2012

Two 2013 Platter 5 Star Pinotages

In the just just released  2013 Platter Guide to South African wine,  two Pinotages  have achhived the top  5 Star rating.

They are  

Cape Chamonix Greywacke Pinotage 2010

Kanonkop Estate Pinotage  2010

Cape Chamonix won the Winery of the Year award.

 Congrats to both.

See all the winners at http://www.wineonaplatter.com/blog/post/8740


Pinotage 'can change the way you see the world'

Bruce Jack says says of Pinotage "...when exceptional, the wine will stay with you forever, because when made correctly, it is one of the most delicious, complex wines imaginable."  

The following eloquent section of from his article about the making of Flagstones new premium barrel selection Pinotage Reserve 'Time, Manner, Place' 2010.

We love the variety. Like its mother, Pinot Noir, only a few examples of Pinotage can be life-changing for the drinker. But when exceptional, the wine will stay with you forever, because when made correctly, it is one of the most delicious, complex wines imaginable.

Pinotage, the grape, has received completely unjustifiable bad press. On average one can taste just as many disappointing Pinot Noirs while visiting Burgundy, but no one blames the grape. You’ll sooner be told the reason a wine is bad, is because the grower’s wife had an affair with the neighbour, than there is any fault with Pinot Noir, the grape.

Yet, when encountering a bad Pinotage, the grape is always blamed. Why is this? Is it because Pinotage is a South African creation, and most of the critics are European-obsessed? Who knows... What we do know is that Pinotage can be beautiful, but like Pinot Noir, this isn’t easy to achieve.

And when it is disappointing, first blame everything else, but don’t blame the grape. If you do, you should also dismiss Cabernet Franc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Petit Verdot, Monastrell, Grenache and all the thousands of other varieties that also produce disappointing to average wines, but when elevated through winecraft to something magnificent, can change the way you see the world. 
 Read Bruce's full item here  http://flagstonewines.com/blog/flagstone-time-manner-place-pinotage-reserve-the-process

21 October 2012

Can Pinotage age? You bet!

Professor Mike Veseth, who blogs as The Wine Economist, attended a Pinotage seminar at Cape Wine 2012 where he tasted old Pinotages starting with a 1964 Lanzerac bottling, which he found ‘still had a lot to say’.

He writes

... if the question is whether Pinotage can age (as Old World wines are supposed to do), the answer is very clearly yes it can. These particular older vintages have evolved into quite fascinating creatures — interesting enough to make a fan of old Burgundies stop and think. Another eye-opening experience.


06 October 2012

Pinotage at AWS 2012 Conference

Just a month to go and I’m preparing my Pinotage presentation for the 2012 National Conference of the American Wine Society in Portland, Oregon on 9 November.

I’ve only a short time for the seminar and I want to use it to give the facts and demolish some myths. 

But the really important thing is to let people taste good Pinotage for themselves. There’s no point in just telling people how it tastes because that’s not going to change any pre-conceptions: the evidence will be in their glasses.

I am grateful to the following  South Africa, California and Virginia wineries for generously supplying wines for event.

  • Beyerskloof   ‘Diesel’ 2009
  • Fairview 2010
  • Fort Ross ‘Estate’ 2007 (California)
  • Loma Prieta ‘Amorosa Vineyard’ 2010 (California)
  • Lovingston ‘Gilberts Vineyard’ 2011 (Virginia)
  • Silkbush  ‘Lions Drift’ 2009
  • Simonsig 2009
  • Simonsig ‘Redhill’ 2009

Shortly after booking opened I heard from AWS there were 66 Update - Latest figures show 77 people booked for the seminar at that time but maximum capacity is 90.

There is an amazing breadth of wines to taste and I doubt such a line up has ever happened before

If you can, I hope to see you there.

(this post updated on 19 Oct 2012)