Is it hot and happening?

Thursday, 22 April, 2004
Kim Maxwell
Pinotage and Pinotage blends
It’s fairly fashionable to go Pinotage-bashing in certain circles. The standard negative response used to be that Pinotage contained offensive acetone flavours. But these days it’s generally agreed that quality wines are free of those off-putting characters. Let’s look at facts in favour of the variety - Pinotage wine is exported to 70 countries, the variety constitutes 6.5% of plantings, and is grown most prolifically in Malmesbury, Stellenbosch and Paarl. Reds aside, it’s a versatile variety as a base for sparkling wine, and is suitable for fortification. With tricky Pinot Noir as a parent, Beyers Truter says it ain’t the easiest wine to make. He says criticism often comes from those without the know-how.

True, tempers have flared over what percentage of Pinotage constitutes a Cape Blend for local competition purposes. Arguments still persist over whether Pinotage really rates as a great, age-worthy wine. Is defining a wine’s blending make-up essential then? And isn’t an emphasis on ageability misdirected, when the majority of consumers keep New World wines for five years at most? It’s hardly surprising that the Pinotage Association regularly does damage control to elevate the status of the grape. Thorough, constructive promotion of quality Pinotage wines and blends is needed instead.

The association could do a lot better by following Anthony Hamilton Russell’s lead. ‘Concentrate on making the best wine possible, which just happens to be Pinotage,’ he says. ‘Having a unique selling point (usp) isn’t enough reason to sell Pinotage. The wines have to be really good.‘ He makes a valid point.

‘The tragedy is that Pinotage is seen by some as being the old South Africa, but in reality the true innovators are those who’ve stuck with Pinotage,’ continues Hamilton Russell. ‘If we just treat Pinotage like a red wine, we’d probably have more marketing success. With Cabernet Sauvignon, you don’t write off the variety, you blame the site or the winemaker for a poor wine. The Pinotage variety is capable of greatness in a different way to an Australian Shiraz or Californian Cab. A wine with expression of origin, and that fine tension you get in a great European classic.’

Walker Bay’s Southern Right was started in 1994, and Hamilton Russell says he’s become increasingly excited by their Pinotage experiments over the past 10 years. True to its philosophy, a sneak preview of Southern Right’s Bastenburg 2001 really wows. A single-vineyard 100% Pinotage wine, it will form the basis of Southern Right’s future Cape Blend flagship. Look out.

CAPTION: A passion for wine: Diemersfontein's Carpe Diem Pinotage won the 'Best Pinotage' trophy at the South African Trophy Wine Show (2003), repeating their sucess of 2002. The trophy, pictured above, was designed and crafted by John Skotnes