Bruce Jack wine of the week: Flag of Truce Pinotage

Monday, 6 February, 2023
Bruce Jack Wines
Bruce Jack Wines's wine of the week is Flag of Truce Pinotage. "I fought and lost debilitating battles with this fiendish grape," writes Bruce Jack.

And because Pinotage smells fear on a winemaker at 60 paces (even before you reluctantly walk into the vineyard), each successive vintage became more of a mountain of anxiety to overcome. I almost reached the point of total defeat – that dark place where the only sense of winemaking salvation comes from criticising the variety.

But I was saved from that fate by a conversation in a bar. The bar happened to be in the Spanish wine region of Utiel-Requena in Valencia. This is an appellation infamous for a red variety called Bobal. The examples I had tasted that day were a mixed bunch, but intriguingly so. I had never come across the wines before. They ranged from rough, rustic, black wines with 4×4 tyres for tannin, to wines which were so beguiling they seemed part magic-carpet. When a variety can make such a divergence of quality and style, when some examples leave you grasping for air because they are so unkind on your palate, while others hint at wine heaven, you take notice. Here you have a variety that doesn’t play by the rules and isn’t ever tamed. Here is a variety you follow and don’t try to lead. Here was a variety like Pinotage.

Ed Adams (my partner in our Spanish project, La Báscula) had just ordered some lamb cutlets cooked over the open flame (the house speciality), when his ears pricked up at the word ‘Bobal’. A table of winemakers next to us were engaged in a passionate discussion and Ed translated what they were saying for me:

“Bobal is a cat,” sneered one. “It will only be friendly on its own terms.”

“It can be magnificent or your Achilles heel – there is no safe middle ground,” concurred another.

Then a much older, weather-etched man with a tweed cap spoke and everyone listened.

“Bobal is like our mountains. In ancient times, one had to master the mountains to get to the coast. But then came the railways, the flood-proof bridges and the tunnels. So now we go around and through the mountains. This has opened up the country and brought wealth from Valencia. No one uses the old mountain roads and in some places they are now lost to the forests.”

I wasn’t sure Ed was translating correctly. There didn’t seem to be a point to his soliloquy and I couldn’t decipher what the relevance to Bobal winemaking was. I noticed some of the younger winemakers looked at each other quizzically while the old man took a sip of wine and chewed on a polished almond.

Eventually, he said, “No one is forcing us to conquer the mountains anymore, so our relationship with them has changed and our knowledge of the ways of the mountain has been lost. But we still marvel at them and respect them and of course they are part of us. We must just be prepared to rediscover the mountains for the sake of the mountains. Instead of having to conquer them to get to the coast, we must rediscover the old roads and ways of the mountain only because they are special to us.”

I am not sure what effect this cryptic speech had on those winemakers and their personal struggles with Bobal, but for me a light suddenly came on. For the first time I saw Pinotage, not as a debilitating battle, but as an adventure – an opportunity to rediscovery my own South African viticultural identity. I decided to discard everything I had been told about Pinotage and just walk up into the forest and discover this majestic winemaking mountain at my own pace, and purely for the delight of doing so.

From making some of the most embarrassing examples of Pinotage, in a single vintage, I started making award-winning wines. What astounded me was the immediacy of the transformation. It wasn’t an army I had needed to meet Pinotage with, it was a flag of truce.

Single vineyard

If you really want to get nerdy about terrior and representing the true spirit of place through a wine, you have to believe, as I do, in single vineyards. South Africa is the only winemaking country that has a national, government-gazetted legislation controlling single vineyard status. So when you see the words “single vineyard” on a bottle, it actually means single vineyard.

This wine is a single vineyard wine from a famed vineyard in the Breedekloof region on a farm called Silkbush. The grapes are grown by co-owner Anton Roos. It is the most awarded single vineyard Pinotage in the world, being responsible for so many ABSA Top 10 awards I have lost count.

This special vineyard sits regally at the very top of the farm – 720m above sea level – one of the highest Pinotage vineyards in the world, on a steep south west facing slope of weathered shale, weathered granite, ironstone and quartzite. The views are breath-taking. It is very peaceful. There is a presence. I love it.


Hand-picked in a series of passes, with the morning and afternoon sides of the vines picked separately, the perfectly ripe grapes are fed via conveyor belt into open-top fermenters, where they ferment using the natural yeast found on the bunches. The colour and tannin are extracted very softly using a manual technique of daily punch downs. A grape never goes through a pump. The fermented skins are fed via gravity into a small basket press for a gentle squeeze before the wine rests in small barrels (mostly old) for a period of two years before bottling.

Our goal is to be true to the vineyard, to reflect, each year, the vintage conditions and in doing so craft an expression of Pinotage that is both unique and brilliant.

Shop this wine HERE.

Pair your bottle of Flag of Truce with, open flame grilled bone-in rib eye steak, served with roasted broccolini and a fresh couscous salad. Use code: BJHFLAG on checkout