The Buyer
Roger Jones’ pick of best top quality South African Pinotage

Roger Jones’ pick of best top quality South African Pinotage

Pinotage is a wine that has gone out of fashion, particularly in the premium end of the market – this despite it being a derivative of Cinsault and Pinot, two grapes that have recently seen a massive increase in production on South Africa’s Cape. Michelin-starred chef Roger Jones travelled to South Africa to find out what has happened to quality Pinotage and see if he could find some that would sit happily on wine lists in the UK.

Roger Jones
16th February 2017by Roger Jones
posted in Tasting: Wine ,

The task was to see if The Buyer could discover quality South African Pinotage – giving the clarity of fine Burgundy but with a spiced dimension. Flagstone Winery, Rijk’s and Kanonkop are just some of the 10 wineries that Roger sampled and we list his tasting notes below.

Bananas, chocolate box, rubber, fruit bombs, nail polish …. forget these descriptions, Pinotage is changing and there is a shining light coming from some Cape winemakers presenting a wine that is altogether more attractive, pure, precise and perfectly balanced.

Professor Abraham Perold created this grape variety back in the 1920s but the first Pinotage was not vinified until the year of his death in 1941. Maybe if he had persevered he could have guided winemakers more precisely over what exactly he was proposing with this grape that is now so widely planted in South Africa.

I have been lucky enough to try a few older Pinotages, notable the 1966 and 1969 vintages from Lanzerac, which I tasted over lunch at the Hamilton Russell‘s stately home.

The 1969, whilst musty on opening, developed in the glass with a hint of bonfire on the nose, it was a red/copper brick colour, with notes of ripe, grilled blackberries, similar to the superlative aged Vina Tondonia Rioja wines from the 60s. The 1966, meanwhile, was more in the deeper Bordeaux style. Both wines were hugely impressive and far removed from the chocolate box style.

The mission – to discover Pinotage for the premium buyer

Pinotage is a derivative of Pinot and Cinsault, and while both these grapes are seeing increased production in the Cape, making a Pinotage that can grace the world stage is difficult in both production and marketing.

I was determined, however, to see whether I could find suitable styles of Pinotage that would sit happily in the UK market.

There is still clearly a market in South Africa for the cheap, mass-produced style of Pinotage, but those are not for me.

Over the early part of this year I visited numerous Pinotage specialists, and have listed some of the many highlights that I tasted. I was in search of a wine that gave out the clarity of very fine Burgundy but with a spiced dimension – purity was essential, as well as a wine that excited and gave me a reason to buy (and promote) Pinotage.

Some of these wines are rather rare and maybe only available from specialists such as Handford Wines. I would also note that these wines are best served slightly chilled.

Rijk’s, Tulbagh

(available in the UK through Boutinot)

Pierre Wahl the established winemaker at Riik’s provided me not only with a superlative tasting of his Pinotage, including aged ones but I certainly was educated and enthused by his explanation and description of how to produce the best Pinotage, his ethos is “Wine Growing”, not “Wine Making”, so he wants to grow and nurture the finest vines and have minimal cellar intervention.

He explained how essential that it was to open up the canopies at an early stage to get as much sunlight onto the grapes to avoid any vegetable nuances.

Pierre also stressed how important the berry size were ideally between 1.2 and 1.3 gram and low ph was a must. Wines are pumped over never punched down. And most importantly to pick the grapes in the coolness of night and although he uses Bush-vines, they are kept up from the ground which is layered with hay or sawdust to stop the heat reflect back from the ground.

Rijk’s Touch of Oak Pinotage 2013

He uses 3rd or 4th full barrels so that the oak influence is nominal, cherries and light summer berries, delicate light spice, spritly and fresh, elegance and I was noting the Cinsault flavours coming through at the end, lovely acidity on the finish.

Rijk’s Private Cellar Pinotage 2012

Gentle, simmering, feminine, beautiful wine, the purity is perfect, not really concerned what grape this is it is a stunning wine and great value. There is a touch of cinnamon, balanced well with bright berries, tight tannins, floral and juicy at the end.

Rijk’s Reserve 2013

Perfumed, elegance, juicy mini berries oozing with purity, first words that hit you is the similarity to Pinot Noir, he uses American Oak, but delicately controls, this is a class wine.

Rijk’s Reserve 2008

Interesting how these Pinotage develop, more precise berries – such as bilberries, more advanced savoury and spiced flavours, the flavours linger with age the purity is still there, but there is more complexity.

Spioenkop, Elgin

Spioenkop Pinotage 2015, 1900 Range Battle of Spioenkop, Elgin

Burgundian, clean delicate berries with a touch of spice, beautifully focused, delicate perfume, raspberry and floral, silky on the palate a voluptuous wine.

Spier, Paarl

Spier Collaborative Series – Blind Astronomer Pinotage, 2009 – Paarl

Juicy cranberries, seductive, long lingering, beautiful aged, lingers on the palate but has a soft acidity of pink grapefruit to balance the luxurious flavours. Rare wine sold in collective boxes of 2 bottles including a superlative aged Chenin.

Simonsig, Stellenbosch

Produced their first Pinotage in 1970, now under red winemaker; Debbie Thompson’s guidance, Redhill is their prestige single vineyard Pinotage, named after the Red Hill soil colour. These are just a few notes from a full and lengthy tasting which ended with the rare and wonderful iconic Cabernet, Simonsig Garland 2009.

Simonsig Redhill Pinotage 2007

Plums and mulberries on the nose, bright and fresh on the palate, drinking perfectly. The purity is superb, that penetrating bright flavours give a seductive velvety mouthfeel.

Simonsig Redhill Pinotage 2012

This is a very bright dancing wine, lots of striking berry flavours, mulberries, polished, silky, careful use of oak, bold bright fruit, the word beautiful sums this up perfectly.

Simonsig Redhill Pinotage 2014

Juicy, needs time but opened in the glass, soft sour cherries, bright vanilla, refreshing clean and fresh, Burgundian, evolving, difficult to fully evaluate after the tremendous 2012.

Frans Milan Cape Blend 2015

Pinotage blend with Cabernets, full of luscious dark berries, sweet fruited, spiced and will age gracefully. This is a serious wine, not 100% Pinotage but needed to add it as it shows how good Cape Blends can be and the Pinotage lifts the blend.

Flagstone Winery, Breedekloof Valley

(available in the UK through Matthew Clark)

Under the guidance of Cape born Bruce Jack, who studied literature and political science in South Africa before heading to Scotland to do his Masters and then his winemaking degree at Roseworthy in Australia. Now owned by Accolade, this winery produces a large range of wines, Gerhard Swart the winemaker took me through an impressive range of wines before letting me try the Pinotage, highlights included Word of Mouth Viognier,

Flagstone Writer’s Block 2014

Single Vineyard, intense purity, touch of lambs juices, spices of cumin, cinnamon and vanilla a vibrant wine, fruit carries well with a luscious velvety finish, this is drinking so well already and my notes shouted out ‘superb’.

Time Manner Place Pinotage 2014

Brilliant, just brilliant, 40% new oak, mostly American, sourced from the highest rows from the Writer’s Block Vineyard, this is to age but already shows an abundance of bright juicy fruit with an impressive savoury background, some juicy leg of lamb juices, the spices from the oak is beautifully controlled, this is a superstar.

Beeslaar, Stellenbosch

Beeslaar Pinotage 2014

Abrie Beeslaar is the winemaker at Kanonkop (listed below) and since 2012 has been producing his own label wine, to me his own label is more Burgundian in style, evolving with delicious cherry and raspberry flavours. There is a daunting, delicate perfume from the nose and this is a great wine. The 2012 vintage I am told is a masterpiece. 5,200 bottles produced.

Kanonkop, Stellenbosch

(available in the UK through Majestic)

Kanonkop Exhibition Pinotage (Kadette Range) 2015 produced exclusively for The Wine Society

Bright, clean, juicy, great freshness and vibrancy

Kanonkop Black Label 2015

A single 60-year-old vineyard, rare wine only made in the best years. Beautiful purity, intensity of dark sweet blackberries, silky and delicate spice, at nearly £100 a bottle it is a rare wine but worth seeking, less than 2,000 bottles are produced so good luck. Handford Wines may have a few bottles.

And lastly two examples of some great value Pinotage that I tasted

Hamilton Russell Estate

(available in the UK through Mentzendorff)

Emul Ross, winemaker at Hamilton Russell

Southern Right Pinotage 2013

I have long been a big fan of Southern Right Pinotage from Hamilton Russell, this wine (now 100% Pinotage) offers a terrific value wine made in the modern Pinotage style, being fresh and clean and benefits from its closeness to the Walker Bay coastline and breeze. Delicate white and red cherries, hints of spice, fresh running roast lamb juices.

Groot Constantia

(available in the UK through Hallgarten, Druitt & Novum)

Groot Constantia Pinotage 2015

Another bargain and in a similar fresh style is the Groot Constantia Pinotage, with the cool rainy Constantia region allowing Pinotage to shine here; clean fresh strawberries, juicy sweet plums, soft tannins, beautiful use of oak, a vibrant wine.