ABSA Top 10 judging reveals classical balance and regionality

Thursday, 25 July, 2013
ABSA Top 10
Internationally respected sommelier, restaurateur and author Guido Francque is one of the wine world's most ardent admirers of South Africa's Pinotage grape variety, and the Belgian says the quality of Pinotage wines are showing vast improvements as wine-makers and viticulturalists put their fingerprint on the cultivar.
Speaking after judging this year's ABSA Top 10 Pinotage Competition, Francque said the 126 entries from 80 producers was the most impressive line-up he had experienced in his years of judging the Top 10.

"I have been following Pinotage for over 20 years now, so have seen pretty much all that the South African wine-makers have employed in making your country's signature wine variety in terms of extraction, wood-maturation and levels of ripeness," says Francque.

"One thing that struck me about this year's entries was the discernible classical structure among so many of the wines entered. Less American oak - an experiment which I think does not work so well with Pinotage - and a nurturing of the variety's Pinot Noir and Burgundian character has led to some truly extraordinary wines."

According to Francque, a classic wine is both feminine and masculine. "It needs the feminine elegance and lightness, just as much as the masculine structure and back-bone must be present," he says. "This is being found in more-and-more Pinotage wines as wine-makers achieve balance and integration."

On the issue of alcohol-levels, Francque says he obviously prefers the classic levels for red wines of between 12.5% and 14%. "It is, however, all about balance," he says. "You can have a wine of 13%, but if clumsily made it strips the roof of your mouth with the alcohol burn. Well-made wines can hit  a level of 15% and more, but taste plush and soft due to the balance achieved in the vineyard and the cellar. Generally, the entries for this year's competition showed a tendency towards moderate alcohol levels."

One of the striking features of this year's ABSA Top 10 judging experience, he says, was the vintage variation among the wines. "The entries produced wines from 2007 to 2012, and experiencing such noticeable variation in the vintages was, for me, extremely exciting as it not only showed expressive character of Pinotage, but also vindicates my belief in South Africa as a wine country with true terroir that allows for such different expressions between vintages."

According to Francque, defining the country's Pinotage landscape in terms of regional diversity is coming to the fore as the different styles of wines originating from the different areas are receiving recognition. "I am now seeing regional expression and diversity in Pinotage which I have never seen before," he says. "From the cool Burgundian character found in wines from cooler climates, to the gentle spiciness of inland regions, the scope and breadth of Pinotage has never been this intriguing. And this is the feature of a unique and diverse wine country, as no matter what we are tasting at which competition, it's all about the vineyard."

This year's judging for the ABSA Top 10 took place at Nederburg. On the panel with Francque were: Duimpie Bayly, Chairman, Neil Pendock, Winnie Bowman, Chris Roux, Frans Smit and Debbie Thompson.