Exploring the Unique Terroir of South African Single Vineyard Pinotage…

Wines of South Africa in the UK do a wonderful job promoting South African wines and the various diverse wine regions in South Africa on a pretty meagre shoestring budget. From premium wines to mass-market high street brands, all producers get a look-in through the year as the full breadth and depth of the industry is conveyed to the UK marketplace. This weekend is National Pinotage Day and to celebrate, Jo Wehring and the WOSA UK team organised a fascinating webinar and tasting with Dr Etienne Terblanche PHD and L’Avenir winemaker, Dirk Coetzee, featuring some excellent examples.

Pinotage knowhow has matured extensively over the years and is now able to highlight new and unique insights into the broader Cape wineland terroirs thanks to the variety being so widely planted and with a relatively large quantity of older vines in the ground. The cliché of Pinotage being a real “marmite” wine is starting to fade as producer after producer starts to produce high quality wines that more than anything else, represent the regional terroir the grapes are grown on.

Pinotage, like Chardonnay, does often allow the winemaker to make their personal mark stylistically, but one thing is for sure, the variety’s true strengths and unique selling points include being able to make a variety of dry red styles, wines with lots of juicy fruit, most wines possessing excellent ageing ability and also the versatility of the variety to make dry reds, Rosé, Method Cap Classique sparkling wines and numerous dessert styles.

Dirk Coetzee and Dr Etienne Terblanche PHD

The pinnacle of quality Pinotage production in South Africa often manifests itself through many of the Cape’s single vineyard wines grown on the three main soil types of Sandstone (300-400 million years old), Shale (Malmesbury Group) and decomposed Granite, which covers all the wines tasted for this seminar.

The Diversity of Pinotage:

Kaapzicht Skraalhans Pinotage 2020, WO Bottelary – Stellenbosch, 12.5% Abv.

A young vine trellised vineyard situated at around 90 to 100-meter altitude on pure washed out granitic soils. Picked early to respect a lighter style with 20% whole bunch, fermented on the skins for three days before being racked off into large old barrels to complete fermentation. Youthful and vibrant, the aromatics are very perfumed and lifted showing wonderfully inviting notes of red cherries, cranberry and red currant. Palate is super soft, fine boned and supple, very cool and precise, showing a delightful light touch extraction. There is layer upon layer of tart red cherry fruit with bright bristling acids that give the mouthfeel incredible energy and mouth-watering freshness with soft powdery tannins and a long, brambly mineral finish with just a subtle hint of flinty reduction. A truly delicious expression.

(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

B Vintners Liberté Pinotage 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.

Made from 20-year-old bush vines on a south facing False Bay vineyard on washed out granitic soils utilising around 40% whole bunch during fermentation. The aromatics show a cool, savoury red cherry fruited complexity with plenty of maritime sea breeze salinity, sappy cranberry and bramble berry fruits, sweet grilled herbs and hints of potpourri. The palate is exceptionally polished, tight knit and fine grained with a drying tannin density, bright citric acids and a cool, stony, mineral length with a tangy salinity on the finish. Another very accomplished expression from Bruwer Raats and Gavin Bruwer Slabbert.

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Sangiro Pinotage 2018, WO Piekenierskloof, 12.5% Abv.

A vineyard located three hours north of Cape Town in the Piekenierskloof at 300 to 400 meters altitude with dry grown vines. Made by Rudiger Gretschel (of Reyneke and broader Vinimark winemaking fame), the wine shows plenty of raspberry herbal tea spice, notes of dried herbs and fynbos nuances over red and black berries and damson plums. The palate is rich, plush and structured with spicy tea tannins, black cherry, stony mineral grip, round tangy acids and yet more layers of black cherry and black plum with an intricate apricot stone pip finish. Mineral, savoury, focused and rather bold… this is quite an individual expression of Pinotage.

(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Ashbourne Pinotage 2018, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13.5% Abv.

An impressive rich, savoury and expressive red from 16-year-old trellised vines planted on Bokkeveld Shales. Matured for 10 months in 400 litre barrels, 40% of which were new, with approximately 10% of sun-dried stems added back for additional structural complexity during fermentation. The aromatics are lifted, fresh and perfumed with opulent notes of black cherries, red berries, eucalyptus, peppermint crisp milk chocolate and sappy spicy oak nuances. The palate reveals attractively rich, plush, textured fruit notes with bright tangy acids, plenty of red berry freshness and ample mineral fine grained tannin characteristics. An attractive multi-dimensional wine that shows a lot of pedigree.

(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

L’Avenir Single Block 02 Pinotage 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.

A dryland grown single vineyard planted in 1994 on decomposed shales with plenty of exposure to the salty coastal sea breezes of the False Bay. The aromatics are cool, refined and broody with great precision, purity and focus but also offer up ample depth of black fruits, hints of kelp, liquorice and raisined black cherry liquor notes. The palate is powerful and intense, with piercing sweet – sour acids, rich intense salty black fruits and a long, dense, bold finish with fine grained graphitey, stony, mineral tannins. Undoubtedly a very confident, well-made Pinotage that will appeal to a lot of fine wine lovers.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Beeslaar 2018 Pinotage, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.

Made by Kanonkop winemaking legend Abrie Beeslaar from 25-year-old dryland bush vines grown on decomposed shale soils with a small portion of decomposed granite. Fermentation took place in open top concrete tanks with regular punch downs performed every 2 hours to maximise extraction. After fermentation, the wine was aged in 40% new 225 litre French oak barrels for 21 months. On the nose, there is plenty of density and broody black fruited depth together with intricate notes of raisined black cherry, raisined cranberry, damson plum and hints of Christmas pudding, incense and crème bruleed caramel oak spice. But for all the richness, intensity and depth, the palate shows a freshness and vitality that is quite startling, helping to balance the expansive fruit concentration and sweet, creamy tannins. Where the 2017 showed a more weightless perfumed concentration of vibrant red fruits, this 2018 is darker fruited and more savoury with plenty of sweetness on the front of the palate but also a fine, drying, tangy finish. Very classy.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

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