10 great Pinotage’s to wrap your tongue around
11 February 2016
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Thanks for joining for another episode of Old Mutual Live Wine edition, I’m Jenny Crwys–Williams . A short while ago we were chatting about the value of a properly trained sommelier in South Africa. It was a conversation I had with a man who was, and I guess sometimes still is a sommelier and so much more. He’s just published his own list of what he considers to be South Africa’s top, top Pinotage’s. I think you’ll find the list refreshing and remember, you can chill the wine down for fruity summer drinking.
Joining me to talk about Pinotage is Higgo Jacobs. I was reading one of his blogs and he was saying is experiencing a mini renaissance with an increasing number of producers exploring what he describes as a bright and juicy expression of the variety that shows off the fruit. Rather than oak and showing real finesses with less ripe extraction. It is a very lively style isn’t it Higgo, that is coming out of the wood somehow or the other?
Higgo Jacobs: Indeed, it’s very exciting, it’s not too long ago that there has been only too many local and international serious wine critiques and commentators absolutely point blank refusing to consider a Pinotage as a serious category. We won’t get into that too much. But it was for a variety of reasons.
But all of these, one by one, are turning their opinion about the variety and the main reason for that is this new style. There are some producers that’s been making this style for a long time in SA. But certainly it’s more favoured for the variety to be expressed with a more fruit forward, purity of fruit, brighter and just fresher style and it suits our climate. It’s just a no-brainer, it’s wonderful to have Pinotage in that style.
Long gone is the acetone
JCW: I have to say that I know many people who didn’t enjoy Pinotage and that sometimes acetone kind of note that you got in your mouth and disliked it, but that has gone almost entirely.
HJ: Yes, it’s certainly still seen a little bit in the variety, but more and more people are treating the variety with more respect, picking it at the right time. Pinotage is usually an earlier ripening variety and lots of producers were trying to squeeze serious character out of it. Hanging it much later in the vineyard and it’s then that you’re getting these over-ripe banana extracted, coffee acetone. Then also from the oak, just getting all sorts of weirdness which is completely unnatural for the variety.
If you get the pure fruits, it certainly isn’t easy because if you pick it very early then you can get those acetone, sort of green, hard, stalky flavours out of Pinotage. But just paying attention and respect to the fruit in the vineyard is just yielding some wonderful wines out of SA. What’s great about it is that it is unique to SA. If we can make wines that are really delicious from Pinotage, it’s exciting for us.
JCW: It is indeed because it’s the only truly South African varietal isn’t it?
HJ: Indeed it is.
JCW: I was looking at the publicity that was given South African Pinotage Day this year and it seemed to me that it is getting more publicity in line with the growing interest in the new look Pinotage. Would you agree with that?
The continued revival of Pinotage
HJ: Yes, I certainly would agree with that, as mentioned earlier, there are more international commentators now also opening their, should we say opening their tasting array to include Pinotage. I think basically what’s contributed to that is more serious producers including the Pinotage in their line up. Saying, if a critique was sceptical before, gets a Pinotage from a producer that he really rates because he’s also making a brilliant Chenin or something like that. Then suddenly they go: Okay, I’ll give this wine a fair chance.
If that wine then has the same purity of fruits and personality and character and again deliciousness factor, then they go oh well, this has opened my eyes to the category. All of a sudden they’re also considering others. We’ve had some great international rapport. If you look at commentators like Tim Atkin having come out here, Martin, lots of international serious critiques, including Pinotage in their high scoring wines.
JCW: Let’s look at your choice because there’s some of them I’ve never heard of before. In an overall sense, were you looking for something in particular with your choice of your top ten Pinotages?
HJ: Absolutely, my top ten on the website, done on the Sideways website is not meant to be something necessarily, these are my highest scoring wines. It’s a light-hearted category that I do the recommendations in and it’s always maybe a bit of personal favourites.
When it comes to Pinotage, my personal favourites are juicier and fruitier styles. That’s why I also explain it in the intro paragraph there. It’s not necessarily what I believe to be the best or the most long-lived Pinotage, but it’s personal favourites going, if you buy these, they will surprise you in how delicious they are. You can even drink them in summer and cool them down a little bit more than you would your Cabernet Sauvignon that you’ve been drinking on a winter’s evening. These wines are all fruity and fresh.
The Flagstone Truth Tree Pinotage will set you free
JCW: Let’s look at a couple of them and I love the title of the Flagstone Truth Tree Pinotage. Why on earth it’s the Truth Tree Pinotage, there’s got to be a story about that which I think is exciting, why did you choose that one?
HJ: The Flagstone is probably the lightest one in the bunch and it’s also great value for money. It’s a good question, I don’t unfortunately know why it’s called Truth Tree. But the Flagstone wines with Bruce Jack at the helm there of their cellar team, their style has been for a long time to make elegant and fruit driven wine.
The Truth Tree is on quite a few wine lists that I compile, it’s just a great banter, it does taste of Pinotage because you also don’t want to make a tutti-frutti Pinotage that could be any variety. You want to get that Pinotage character because Pinotage does give you a lot of structure and great dry tannin and that is something that you are looking for.
It’s not a light and easy variety, it can give you quite a bit of structure, so you want an element of that. But this wine is just incredibly juicy and so easy drinking, it’s almost dangerous delicious – might be a good way to refer to it. I think it’s the lowest price point of the ten that I recommended, so it’s great value.
JCW: Where does it come in, is it in excess of R50 a bottle or less than that?
HJ: No, it’s certainly more than R50 but it’s below R100. That’s maybe another interesting point to mention, Pinotage’s are also starting to command a decent price and we’re very spoilt for value as South African consumers with our wines, we certainly get great wines for the price. Some of those are in excess of R300, but to have a wine like the Truth Tree under R100 is just wonderful drinkability and it’s surprised in a lot of blind tastings before, where it stands up to way more pricing tiers.
A play on Pinotage’s origins
JCW: I guess if you’re looking for pricey, Radford Dale Frankenstein, that must come in more on the pricey range?
HJ: Absolutely, I know why that name exists, it is a play on the history of Pinotage and that it’s been created by a nutty professor in Stellenbosch in the 1920’s and it’s been seen as a bit of an ugly child for long. It’s quite a clever play on that, that it’s a little bit of this monster that they’re now making into a beautiful wine.
The Frankenstein is maybe the closest to a Burgundian style. Burgundy is obviously Pinot Noir, which is one of the fathering varieties for Pinotage. It’s quite clumsy, people say we make our Pinotage more in a Pinot Noir style, I always find that ironic because if you look at the other variety, which is Cinsault, that’s also a light and juicy and fruity variety.
It certainly makes sense from both genetic origin point of views that it should, the Pinotage should be the juicy, fruity, they have a heck of a lot of exposure already and it’s certainly for me one of the best Pinotage’s. But just slightly different in style, is Kanonkop, that some Pinotage’s with true ageability and elegance for decades. That’s certainly a mentionable omission there.
JCW: Maybe we should just go through the list and just give the names so that people can go out and hunt them down. B Vintners Liberte Pinotage –
HJ: That’s a new producer out of Stellenbosch, B Vintners is, they’re cousins, some of the listeners might know out of the family wines, very popular for their Chenin and Cabernet Franc. But they’ve made this joint venture and looking for real interesting spots all around Stellenbosch. Usually it’s older vines and Pinotage also gets very interesting when made from older vineyards. This is also an expression with superb elegance and purity of fruit.
A host of options
JCW: You’ve chosen the Bellingham Bernard series, Bush Vine Pinotage. I guess that also, Bush Vine’s, longevity?
HJ: Absolutely, what happens with the Bush Vine usually is a lower yield, so you have more concentration of flavour coming out of the berries. The whole of the Bernard series, single varietal wines really focusing on making the fruit do the talking rather than what happens in the cellar.
With all of those 10 wines, it’s very light on oak, so even if there’s substantial oak treatment, you pick it up in the flavour profile of the wine. So very little coffee and vanilla and the toasty good old mocha flavours that you get, they’re certainly not prevalent in my top ten. That’s another very good example of it, just purity of fruit from Bellingham.
JCW: The Chamonix Pinotage also, why do I think that is Franschhoek, is it Franschhoek?
HJ: Yes, so Chamonix is based in Franschhoek, I think it’s a wine of origin, Western Cape. They include, as far as I know, Stellenbosch fruits along with Franschhoek there, but Chamonix, especially while Godfrey Mock? was there, one of our producers really focusing on elegance in wines. With their Chardonnay and their Pinot Noir both being world renown.
So he then quite recently, or they started bringing out the Pinotage and that to me, it’s just another vote of confidence in the variety. When a producer like that, that is known for class and finesse and elegance brings out a Pinotage, that could be quite risky. But that wine has been accepted with wide, open arms, because it expresses that it’s Pinotage, but it’s with the same flair and finesse as the Chardonnay and Pinot.
JCW: And there’s Flagstone, also, it just doesn’t let you down, the Truth Tree Pinotage, we’ve spoken about that. But the KWV Mentors Pinotage, also, KWV, you’re seeing that name coming up again and again and again.
HJ: Absolutely, it’s interesting for me, a lot of, shall we say more younger, perhaps anti-establishment buyers in the trade and also consumers would be avoiding the bigger names like the KWV’s and BGB’s, which is Bellingham and the Distell products and so forth, thinking that the wines are going to be monotone.
But what one has to bear is mind is that these big players have access to brilliant vineyards and very good winemakers and those winemakers want to express themselves creatively. So what they’ve done in all three of those that I’ve now mentioned, they created these ranges, the Bernard Series with Bellingham, the Mentors with KWV, where the production volumes are as small as any of the other boutique producers on that list.
They are making really focused, handmade, passion driven wines and KWV Mentors is certainly one of them. The whole range of Mentors is quite elegant and focused, they’re not big, show stopping wines at all, they’re quite European in their makeup.
Includes some great value for money options
JCW: The Longridge Pinotage? I think that’s our final one?
HJ: That’s also great value for money and alongside with the Flagstone, the Longridge Pinotage, that’s from Longridge itself, which is nestled up on the Helderberg. One of the highest farms in the Helderberg, they make some really good Chardonnay as well there.
But they’ve made a wonderful Pinotage consistently year after year, it’s almost not vintage specific that wine, they always get great fruit from Pinotage and old Jasper, who is actually the brother of the guy who is involved with the other wine on the list. Similarly also drives wines with purity of fruit and elegance. The Longridge is another one along with the Flagstone that’s great value for money.
JCW: I think it’s a fabulous introduction to some really intriguing drinks and as I keep saying, it’s the holiday season coming up and I’m a firm believer in chilling down some of those red wines and they are immensely palatable in summer.
HJ: Absolutely, I can’t agree with you more Jenny. One wouldn’t recommend to chilling it down to below 10, that would maybe make them a little bit hard and astringent perhaps. But the sweet spot for these wines are around 14 degrees Celsius. It’s just a wonderful drink, people need to open up their minds about having a red wine with lunch in summer, it can be as refreshing. Very often more refreshing because red has a little bit of that tannic grip which is great for cleaning the palate if you’re having something to eat. More and more producers are making bright acidity wines out of red varieties and it’s just great to have them slightly chilled.
Last weekend I had an experience of having quite early in the day, I won’t say how early, it might be a bit embarrassing. But having a Pinotage with a late brunch and it was just fantastic and all the people around the table were saying, because they were asking for white wine, they were saying: No, we’re not going to have any red now. I said just have a little sip with me and they made me open another bottle in the end, just because it’s so delicious and so drinkable.
JCW: Thanks for joining me for another episode of Old Mutual Live Wine edition, I’m Jenny Crwys-Williams.