It hasn’t Always been easy to love Pinotage. It’s the progeny of a 1920s shotgun marriage of South African Pinot Noir and Cinsault (née Hermitage) and it definitely earned a “bad-boy-of-the-grape world” reputation...
It hasn’t Always been easy to love Pinotage. It’s the progeny of a 1920s shotgun marriage of South African Pinot Noir and Cinsault (née Hermitage) and it definitely earned a “bad-boy-of-the-grape world” reputation. During a recent tour of South Africa’s Western Cape wine we tasted some beautiful examples that were capable of changing the minds of Pinotage’s most stubborn detractors.
During a recent visit to South Africa’s Western Cape, we learned that in the hands of the misguided and inattentive, Pinotage produce’s off-putting smells of burnt rubber and acrid smoke, gritty texture, and fruit with the finesse of orthopedic shoes. These problems are often compounded in the cellar when winemakers try to mask these offensive characteristics with massive amounts of American oak, making matters even worse.
Pinotage ripens early, and if it is left to hang too long, and the vine’s canopy is poorly managed, the grape’s sugars will become overripe and tannins in the skins and stems will never achieve phenolic ripeness. Another factor is the Leaf Roll virus (transmitted by the mealy bug), which is pervasive in many South African vineyards. It contributes to “green” aromas and flavors by inhibiting photosynthesis. Some large production producers - rather than dealing with the Leaf Roll - just let the grapes hang in the hot sun to compensate for the underripe fruit produced by diseased vines.
More responsible winemakers coax more refined and delicate aromas and flavors from Pinotage. And rather than trying to make a massively oaked and tannic style, they treat the grape like the Pinot Noir side of its parentage in the vineyard and in the cellar. This results in wines that are lively, with clean and intense berry notes and gentle tannins. Two examples of such Pinotage follow. Both winemakers take great care in their vineyards, harvest and optimum ripeness, and treat the grapes with gentle handling.
Two Game-Changing Pinotage:
2014 Southern Right Pinotage Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa
Founded by Anthony Hamilton Russell in 1994, Southern Right’s purpose was to produce serious, age-worth Pinotage that displays the unique terroir of Hemel-en-Aarde and reflects Anthony’s signature classic and refined style. Anthony believes Pinotage is best suited to cooler areas, thus his 113 hectares of Southern Right trellised vines are planted on clay-based soils are ideally situated just a few miles from the marine influence of Walker Bay.
During my recent visit to the property, Lunch with Anthony and his wife Olive in their beautiful home was full of stories about the estate and their passion for the native South African grape.
2014 was a challenging vintage that produced a superlative Pinotage with perfect ripeness but lower-than-usual alcohol - which is quite a challenge under the hot South African sun. The wine has depth, lively tension provided by the perfect amount of natural acid, and a subtle spiciness from nine months in used oak barrels crafted by Burgundy coopers François Frères and Mercury.
Anthony (pronounced “Antony”) is as dedicated to crafting classic Pinotage as he is to the Pinot Noir he produces under his eponymous label.
2013 Remhoogte Bushvine Pinotage Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, South Africa
We met Chris Boutsred when he recently visited the Unwined Belle View shop to pour his wines on a rainy Tuesday evening. Remhoogte is a small, family owned estate in the Simonsberg-Stellenbosch region of the Western Cape, purchased by Chris’ parents in 1994. Chris’ dad Murray made the first vintages, under the tutelage of Michel Roland, and Chris took over winemaking and vineyard management duties in 2007.
There are two blocks of bushvine Pinotage on the Remhoogte estate, one has a cool south-facing aspect and the other is slightly warmer and west facing. Both blocks are planted on decomposed Table Mountain sand stone soils. The bush vine method of planting is better suited to his warmer and windy microclimate.
Grapes are sorted in the vineyard and then twice in the cellar, once as whole bunches and then as individual berries. After a 7-10 day cold soak, fermentation begins. The tanks are regularly and gently punched down by hand, then rest in large French oak for 17 months.
True to its parents, this Pinotage shows both the earthy and savory elements of Pinot Noir combined with the riper and more textured elements typical of Cinsault. Ultra fresh and pure with cherries and mulberries dominating the nose, dried brush and earth add complexity. On the palate, subtle spice follows ripe berried fruit. Chalky tannins complement this wine’s mouth-watering and savory finish.