Difficult harvest rewards the palate

Monday, 14 June, 2004
Marius Labuschagne
Report back from Pinotage Association's annual new vintage tasting.
After one of the most difficult harvests ever for the wine industry, the flexibility and continuous quality of South Africa’s homegrown red wine variety, Pinotage, clearly showed at the annual new vintage tasting of Pinotage wines at Doornbosch in Stellenbosch.

A total of 13 Pinotage tank and barrel samples of the 2004 vintage from various regions were tasted by more than eighty wine experts, wine makers and wine writers to evaluate the current vintage for specifically Pinotage. There was consensus on the good quality of all the wines, which is good news for the local market and exports.

'After enjoying one of the best vintages in decades last year, the Cape winelands this year experienced one of the most difficult vintages ever. It is therefore very gratifying that in spite of the adverse climatic conditions and high volume harvest, which usually has a detrimental effect on quality, the 2004 Pinotage wines which were tasted showed a constant line of fine quality.Compared to last year’s excellent harvest overall, it took much more effort in 2004 to source the prime vineyards, but the wines from all the regions still showed good structure and high quality,' says Charles Hopkins, board member of the Pinotage Association who has entered winning wines for the Absa Top 10 Pinotage Competition more than once .

The 2004 vintage is one of the largest ever for Pinotage concerning volume and it could coincidentally be good timing. Because Pinotage is a genuine Cape wine grape variety, many marketers view it as South Africa’s unique selling point in the international market. The Pinotage Association presents the new vintage tasting annually to enable members to discuss their wines with each other and thus stimulate a mutual desire for the highest quality.

Although Pinotage is a young variety in South Africa compared to the European varieties that have been planted here more than a century ago, it has during the past seven years grown from 3,3% to 6,1% of the total surface area planted to wine grape varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon (11,7%) and Shiraz (7,7%) are the only red grape varieties of which there are currently more vineyards in the Cape winelands.

According to the SA Wine Industry Information and Systems (SAWIS) it is estimated that the industry will be able to supply the demand for red wine during 2004 and 2005. Red wine available for marketing in 2004 is close to 172,2 million litres, after which it will rise annually with an average of 8% to 234,4 million litres in 2008.
It is estimated that the total export market will rise with 11,5% during 2004, while 2005 and 2006 will show more or less the same growth percentage, after which there will be a slight decline.

The vice-chairman of the Pinotage Association and Cape Wine Master, Duimpie Bayly, emphasised the versatility of the Pinotage variety. 'Pinotage is a very stable variety – this was a very challenging harvest, but it still delivered superb wines. With regard to the market, this South African variety’s versatility is a plus factor. A good example is Rosé wines, which are now becoming increasingly popular internationally and Pinotage is also ideal for this style of wine. People are looking for good quality wines that are very drinkable.'

Prof. Joël van Wyk, a retired lecturer in Oenology and honourary member of the Pinotage Association, agreed that the versatility of Pinotage is not fully utilized. 'You can make top quality Rosé wines with Pinotage grapes, while it also supplies an excellent base for Port. The different approaches in styles of Pinotage red wines which were experienced at the new vintage tasting, is also very gratifying. With Pinotage you can satisfy everybody’s taste preferences.

'Because Pinotage grapes ripen early, it usually is harvested before the heat wave that hits the Cape winelands in February. Pressing techniques also play a role. Pinotage grapes have beautiful fruit, colour and tannins and the long skin contact during fermentation is not always necessary. The result is more elegant wines with lower alcohol without sacrificing structure and fruit flavours,' says Prof. Van Wyk.

The common characteristics of the 2004 Pinotage wines which were tasted, include excellent colour and typical banana and plum flavours. Experts agreed that although most of the wines were very accessible, all the wines boasted a full-flavoured, lingering aftertaste.

The wine cellars from the regions and wards whose wines were selected for the new vintage tasting by their representatives, were Aan-de-Doorns (Worcester), Citrusdal Kelder, Diemersfontein (Wellington), Domaine Brahms (Paarl), Lanzerac (Stellenbosch), Middelvlei (Devon Valley), Mooiplaas (Bottelary), Neethlingshof (Stellenbosch), Rico Suter Landgoed (Rawsonville), Seidelberg Landgoed (Paarl), Sumaridge Wyne (Walker Bay), Swartland Wynkelder (Malmesbury) and Viljoensdrift (Robertson). 

Issued by: ML Communications on behalf of the Pinotage Association.
Contact: Marius Labuschagne
Tel. (021) 981 8546
Email: mlab@iafrica.com