Pinotage and all that jazz ...

Monday, 19 April, 2004
Wynand Hamman
Lanzerac April 2004 newsletter
Part of the reason Pinotage gets such a bum rap is because so many of us are susceptible to cultural cringe to the extent that we beat ourselves up when it comes to anything local.

I’m not saying South Africa’s reputation should fall or stand on the basis of Pinotage because it is our national grape but I do think there should be greater acknowledgement of its capacity to produce fine wines. The Pinotage Association, the ABSA Top Ten Pinotage and the debate around whether a Cape blend should include Pinotage and if so, how much, have all highlighted the grape but perhaps we need to follow the example of the annual San Francisco Zinfandel Festival, started in 1992 to raise the status and awareness of the varietal in a way that appeals not only to wine fundis but to people who like good wine, if you see what I’m getting at.

The festival involves more than wine tasting. It includes food and wine pairing, and from what I’ve read about it, lots of fun. When it began, just 22 wineries were involved, this January the number had risen to 310 and thousands of people participated. Now the organisers are staging a road show in five major US cities. I’m not sure we need to be quite as ambitious but we could at least explore the idea of making Pinotage more interesting and more fun to more people.

Some Americans refer to Zinfandel (and they generally mean the red varietal) as Zin. Should we give Pinotage a more casual edge by calling in Pin? Can’t say I like the ring of it but maybe others feel differently.

But let’s get off the soap box and back onto the wines and look how they are rated by Mike Walsh, writing for the April issue of US magazine, Food & Beverage International. He was very complimentary about them all, describing the Pinotage, for example, as 'a deep, luxurious velvety smooth plummy red with a wisp of chocolate and caramel flavors. Its full body feel is complete with a fruit and wood balance. We taste this wine again with dinner that evening, paired perfectly with a Malay curry.'

He reckons all our reds would compete in the quality stakes with wines priced in the $100 price range, although in the US they retailing at under $28.

But his highest praise was reserved for the Chardonnay which he called 'the home run of the entire trip. Its complexity of flavors are excellent with smoked salmon, lobster, white fish, creamy pasta and white meats. It is being featured in first class for United Airlines on international flights and is the premier choice for some of the world’s finest hotels. This is the first Chardonnay I would choose to serve to my most important client or best friend.'

It is very affirming when our wines are so well received.

Cape Wine 2004 was a spectacular success for us. Our European and UK agents were here and their evaluation of our wines in the South African and international context was very encouraging.

Regards, Wynand Hamman