20 March 2019

2019 Vintage Challenging but Pinotage is Looking Good

Winemakers in the Cape tell me that the 2019 vintage is challenging. Rain, heavy at times and low clouds on hills during the end of March affected late harvested varieties. Where air couldn’t circulate among tight bunches a malady called slip-skin caused skins to fall off grapes.
Also, after three years of drought, vines are over stressed and are starting to drop leaves.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Malbec are being harvested earlier than desired. With lower sugar levels the resulting wines are expected to have lower than usual alcohol levels.

If there is sufficient rain vines are expected to recover for the next season.

However, early ripening grapes including Pinotage were harvested ripe and in good condition and this is expected to be good vintage for Pinotage, while maybe not as great as  2017. Time will tell.

Another severe challenge for wineries is load-shedding. Power cuts, up to 4 a day and each 2½ hours in duration are a real problem in wineries, even those with  generators to keep essential machinery running don't have lighting.


09 March 2019

Oldest Pinotage Vineyard Walk

One Saturday each month in summer winery owner Pieter De Waal leads an amble upwards through his vines to The Top of The Hill vineyard. There, under the shade of an old wild fig tree he uncorks and pours a bottle of the wine made from that old vineyard.

There is now just half a hectare of these 70 year old bush vines that produce 2 – 2.5 tons a of grapes a year, yielding fewer than 3,000 bottles.

The Top of The Hill is the world’s oldest Pinotage vineyard. The wine is aged around 18 months in new French oak barriques and is the estate’s flagship wine. Two other Pinotages are produced, De Waal Pinotage, a surprisingly enjoyable quaffable wine and the more serious new oak-aged De Waal ‘C T De Waal’ Pinotage.

The latter honours Charl Theron de Waal who not only made the very first Pinotage wine in 1941, but encouraged his father and grandfather to plant the new variety on the family farm. Unwilling to pull up any established vines, space was found on an otherwise unwanted flat area of sandy soil near the top of the hill, above the reservoir. This poor soil turned out to perfectly suit Pinotage.

Charl Theron De Waal was a lecturer on winemaking at Elsenburg agricultural college.  By 1941 enough Pinotage vines had been propagated to produce a barrel of wine and De Waal made it at Welgevellen’s experimental winery and in later years at Elsenburg.

I’d booked for the vineyard walk the previous year but it was cancelled after Pieter had an accident. This March’s was the last walk of the summer. 

In total eight of us walked with Pieter who took care to make frequent stops to explain the history of the family and this farm which dates from 1682.

While the dirt tracks are uneven, the walk was easy and at the top Pieter had set out chairs under the shade of the tree where water, and a generous pour of Top of The Hill Pinotage 2015 were waiting.

Back at the winery a cheese platter was waiting with pours of De Waal’s wines; Young Vines Chenin, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz and Merlot. The three Pinotages, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Signal Rock, a Merlot/Cabernet blend with 14% Pinotage.

As well as tasting these wines at the winery, we bought the zingy savvie and the following bottles to enjoyed with dinner.

DeWaal Pinotage 2016 12.7% abv
This came as a freebie in a twin box with the Top of The Hill. The box called it the ‘sexy sister’. What good is a free wine? As it turned out, very good indeed. It’s a most enjoyable easy drinking wine with red plum and raspberry flavours and a most friendly alcohol level. From what DeWaal call younger vines, but at 25-30 years other might call old.

DeWaal ‘C T DeWaal Pinotage 2015 12.41%abv
This really shone at the tasting after the walk, spicy fresh open and inviting with sweet black plums on the palate, and the bottle we took back didn’t disappoint with dinner a few nights later,
Vines 40-50 years old, 12 months in 225-litre French barriques (60% new, 40% second fill)

DeWaal ‘Top of the Hill’ Pinotage 2015 12.6%abv
This is historic in all senses of the meaning, from the world’s oldest Pinotage vineyard. Only released in February 2018 it would benefit with more time in bottle. Its relatively low alcohol doesn’t prepare one for its intensity, or its brooding power. We drank it in the vineyard and again back at the winery and took a bottle home where it superbly accompanied roasted lamb shanks. Layers of flavours – plums, mulberry, spices and underlying typical Pinotage sweetness – backed by fine tannins.
68-year-old vines, aged 18 months in 100% new 225-litre French oak barriques.

DeWaal’s Top of the Hill vineyard walks can be booked via the website.


05 March 2019

Visiting Aaldering Vineyards

Aaldering Vineyards saw their first harvest in 2007 with the first release in 2009. Owners Marianne and Fons Aaldering bought the farm, then called Hidden Valley, in Devon Valley, Stellenbosch, in 2004. The Aalderings home is The Netherlands where they owned airline catering companies.

It was their first winery and Fons knew what he wanted. Only the best. “Nothing but five Platter stars will do,” says marketing managing Gert-Jan Posthuma, “and if they make six stars the best, then that’s what we want. We never stop striving.”

To that end they have built a new computer-controlled winery in 2013. Tanks can be set to a particular temperature of within a range. If limits are breached a message is texted to winemaker P J Geyer’s mobile phone and he can use it to change settings.

They buy 30% of their oak barrels new from four different French coopers in France each year. 70% of wines are aged in the new barrels, the rest in 2nd, 3rd and 4th fill.

Wines are aged for approximately 24 months before being pumped into tanks, and fined and filtered before bottling. They use mobile bottling line and are intending getting their own labelling machine. The bottles come from France. The Bordeaux shaped bottles have a broad neck and taper downwards. “We are the only winery in South Africa to use this shape,” says Gert-Jan.

Aaldering annually produce 120K bottles in their premium range and 30K in the Florence range.

The winery roof is clad in solar panels. “On a sunny day, like today”, said Gert-Jan, “we are totally off the grid.” Which is invaluable currently when Eskom, South Africa’s electricity supplier, can’t cope with demand and is making rolling power outages.

The winery incorporates a cold store where just picked grapes are brought down to 6C.

The winery buildings are attractively designed. Three spacious guest lodges, furnished with antique furniture and modern kitchens and televisions, are housed in a traditional Cape Dutch building that looks as if has stood for hundreds of years, but was recently designed and built under the Aaldering’s direction.

When I visited the large vineyard that stretched the length of the property was bare, its red soil waiting for wooden poles stacked by the side that would hold trellis wines. “That was Shiraz,” Gert-Jan told me. “But it’s a hot slope and Vinpro and viticulture experts from the University took samples and both agreed it was the best place for Cabernet Sauvignon, so that’s is what we’ll be planting. 

The 6ha Pinotage vineyard was planted in 1997 and  is on the opposite side  at the top of a slope. “We’re 155 metres above sea level here,” said Gert-Jan, pointing down the valley “and we get a stiff cool breeze from False Bay in the evening.”  

Inside the luxurious tasting room owner Fons Aaldering and winemaker P J Geyer are in earnest conversation over mugs of coffee.

I sit on the veranda, overlooking vineyards, with a wooden platter holding eight tasting samples.

Aaldering make four Pinotages, two red, a white and a rosé. Also tasted were a Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Shiraz and a Cabernet-Merlot blend.

Unusually and most creatively, each wine has a tasting note in the form of a poem. These were written by the winemaker and his wife.*

Sauvignon Blanc 2018
Crisp and dry with racy acidity and a very long aftertaste which lasted so long I held off tasting the next wine. Lovely!! Ten year-old vines. 14.32% abv.

Pinotage Blanc 2017
There are not many white Pinotages on the market. This was not done any favours by being presented after the expressive savvie. It was light bodied, clean and refreshing, with a underlying creaminess. A super aperitif wine. Aged on lees for four months. 20 year old vines, 13.05% abv.

Chardonnay 2017
A very expressive wine, flowery and mouthfilling. A blend of three components: free run juice fermented in stainless steel, pressed juice in stainless steel tank and 30% barrel fermented in 2nd, 3rd and 4th fill 300L barrels, all undergoing regular battonage. 10 year old vines.14.17% abv.

Pinotage Rosé 2018
This is an ethereally pale pink, reminding me of Provence. It offers clean, fresh  rose-petal and strawberry flavours. From 20 year old vines, 13.5 % abv.

Lady M Pinotage 2018
This is an unwooded wine, named in honour of Marianne Aaldering and her favourite wine. There’s crystallised violets on the nose and even without barrel aging is quite grippy with drying tannins. A food wine for sure.   A vineyard selection;  grapes  hand harvested, destemmed but not crushed. Five days sold soaking at 14C  before gentle pressing at five Balling. 13.8% abv.

Pinotage 2016
This tastes older than the vintage suggests, with spiciness, hints of dark chocolate with a suggestion of mushrooms underneath.  18 year old vines, 14.69% abv.

Shiraz 2015
Classic Shiraz, with spices and fresh ground pepper od black fruits. 15 year old vines, 14.48% abv.

Cabernet Merlot 2012
This doesn’t taste its age, it is full of youthful bright punchy berry fruit flavours. Great drinking now, would age further. 60% Cab/40% Merlot from 13/14 year-old vines. After malo in stainless steel tanks, wines were aged for 25 months in 35% new 225 litre  French oak barrels before blending. 15% abv.

Thanks to Gert-Jan Poshuma for showing me winery.

* Tasting poems for all of Aalderings range are on the last pages of the fourth edition of Aalderings magazine, available in PDF format from www.aaldering.co.za/magazine 

For technical reasons photos will be posted later.

03 March 2019

Le Vin de Francois 2017 Launched at Auction

Le Vin de François 2017 was launched last night at auction. The location of the annual auction is a secret with not even owner-winemaker François Naudé Snr knowing where his transport will take him.

Our car hurtled away from the winelands along the N2 into the heart of Cape Town and stopped by a red carpet where we were greeted by a stilt walker, clown and ring master who showed us to Zip Zap Circus’s Big Top.

There we took our entrance ticket, in the form of canapes on spoons held by hands sticking out through holes in a screen and were greeted by organisers Melissa Naudé and François Naudé Jnr.

Under a tent roof outside Champagne Soutinard was being generously poured and works of art inspired by the winelands were on display with their creators to discuss them. These works would form part of some lots in the auction to follow with proceeds going to support the school they attended.

At dinner in the Big Top, François Naudé Snr quoted the head of industry body Vinpro who said that 2017 was an ‘exceptional vintage’. The rating of exceptional was itself exceptional, said François, when good and very good were usually the highest praise.

François said his Vin de François 2017 echoed the excellent 2015 vintage in that it had ‘complexity, intensity and drinkability’.

2017 was hot and dry with cooler nights, said François. The absence of heatwaves obviated the effects of drought and vines produced healthy grapes which were small with intensity of flavour.

2017 Vin de François is a blend of barrels sourced from Beyerskloof, Delheim, Grangehurst (for the first time) , Kanonkop, Lanzerac, L’Avenir, Rijks and Simonsig.

This wine accompanied the main course. It was rich, with lush Pinotage sweetness and an intensity of flavour. Great drinking now, but François promised that aging it would reward those who could wait.

 The first course was paired with various white wines, including Beyerskloof’s Chenin Pinotage blend. With after-dinner treats, served outside, was pot stilled brandy and cigars.

The auction price paid for a bottle of 2017 was around 1,000R, with larger lots winning bids at a lower unit price. The smallest lot was 12 bottles, the largest 48 bottles. Some lots included magnums and larger formats and some included art works. The auctioneer was Joey Burke.

Photos will be posted later

01 March 2019

March is Pinotage Month

March is Pinotage Month ccording to Chowhound.com in an article titled Try a New Wine Every Month in 2019  and illustrated with a picture of Beaumont Estate's Pinotage

A brooding, intense red with dark fruit, smoke, and herbs, try Pinotage on a March day that is more lion than lamb.

I'll drink to that. 

Incidentally, Beaumont is not the only South African wine in the article. Fairview Bushvine Cinsaut shown for June.

28 February 2019

WoTM - Beyerskloof Groenkloof Reserve 2005

My Wine of the Month for January is Beyerskloof Reserve 2005. This is a one-off bottling  from the Groenkloof appellation.

Beyerskloof made a small group of appellation specific bottlings that vintage for a European importer. Beyerskloof’s then marketing manager made a presentation of them to my local wine tasting group and we could place orders.

This is the last of those I bought. It was graceful in its age after almost 14 years in the bottle, showing lithe fruit with the exuberance of youth smoothed by the years.

It was fascinating to compare different appellations; my favourites at that tasting were from Bottelary and Groenkloof.


Label photos will be posted later

05 February 2019

Platters 5 Star Pinotages


To South Africa House. This  imposing building standing on the corner of The Strand overlooking Trafalgar Square.

Wines of South Africa have managed to assemble most of the 2019 Platter Guide’s Five Star wines for a tasting.

It is wonderful to have the opportunity to sample these outstanding wines, but I am rather disappointed that Pinotage is represented by just four. And of all the great winemakers crafting excellent wines from this most South African cultivar, those four wines are the work of just two of them.

  • Anrie Truter for Beyerskloof Diesel 2016 and Beyerskloof Faith 2014 Cape Blend.
  • Abrie Beeslaar for Kanonkop Black Label 2016 and his own label Beeslaar 2016
L>R Beeslaar, Diesel, Kanonkop, Faith
I tasted the Beyerskloof Diesel 2016 at the beginning and noted its tautness and recorded that it needed time, but I retasted it just before leaving for home and it had blossomed offering sweet fruit, blck plums and berries.

Beyerskloof Faith 2014 is a blend of 34% Pinotage, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon and 33% Merlot and is gorgeous, balanced, ripe black fruit underscored by Pinotage sweetness. This was Platters Wine if the Year in the Red Blend with Pinotage category.

Kanonkop Estate Black Label Pinotage 2016, is made by from barrels selected from some of the oldest Pinotage in existence and priced in the UK at an eye-watering £140 per bottle. 

By definition it’s a statement Pinotage, made for long term aging. But here, almost 3 years after the grapes were picked and thus in its youth its showing well. Restrained power, yet it has a freshness and purity of fruit. Eighteen months in new French oak barrels have been seamlessly absorbed and its good drinking, but I think its glory days are to come. This was Platter’s Pinotage of the Year.

Beeslaar 2016 is made with grapes bought by Abrie from a single vineyard. This was the most approachable of the Pinotages, open and floral with soft sweet fruits and a refreshing finish.

Thanks to WoSA for assembling so many stars in one place. Platter 5 Star wines are rare. Out of 9,000 wines assessed for the guide the top rated ones are tasted again blind by all the judges to decide which get the coveted 5 Stars. The top scoring wine in each category becomes Wine of the Year. 


Christian Eedes reviews the 2017 vintage of Beeslaar Pinotage here.


01 February 2019

WoTM - Ashbourne 2001

My Wine of The Month for January 2019 is Ashbourne 2001. 

As you can see from the only label on the wine (above), there is no mention of variety. This is deliberate. Owner Anthony Hamilton-Russell wanted the wine tasted and judged on its own merits without any preconceptions.

It is  100% Pinotage from Hamilton-Russell Vineyards’s Bastenburg vineyard. I had tasted a barrel sample of this at the winery back in 2004 (see here) and I thought it would need time. In 2005 Steve Tanzer in his influential US publication - the International Wine Cellar - rated it 92/100.

2001 was the maiden vintage of this wine; it was the only bottle I had and I was saving it for a special occasion. I decided I'd kept it long enough and the special occasion was the dawn of 2019.

It was delicious. Certainly showing its age, this grand old lady of a wine gave off cedar aromas and tasted of strawberries and violets. Deliciously drinkable, but I wouldnt have placed it as Pinotage in a blind tasting. I wish I had more.

There isnt an Ashbourne every year; it has to meet Anthony Hamilton_Russell’s exacting standards and comply with his vision for what Ashbourne should be. Later vintages have had other varieties blended in to fine tune the wine to that vision.

Happy New Year.


11 January 2019

The View is Best Pinotage at 6 Nations

The Six Nations Wine Competition 2018 gave 4 awards to Pinotage. Australia, Canada, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA competed.

Top scoring with Double Gold was Canada's The View 'Reserve'  2015. Next, with Gold was New Zealand's Muddy Water 2016, running up with a 'Judges Selection' were two South Africans: De Grendel 'Amandelboord' 2016 and Kanonkop Estate 2015

My report of my 2011 visit to The View, located in British Columbia's semi-desert Okanagan Valley is here.

The  View owner Jennifer Molgat in her Pinotage vineyard