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Wine of the Week for week ending 9 January 2005
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Te Awa Pinotage 2002
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

The wine was poured into decent sized red wine glasses and handed out to us. It was a deep purple red, bright in its hue but so inky in its depth that in a certain light it seemed almost black. It smelt rich and round and the taste reminded me of big, ripe juicy damson plums. It was a thick substantial wine with soft tannins, sweet spices, smoky nuances and a savoury finish with lots of mouth smacking deliciousness.
"What do you think?", I asked my sisters who were joining us in this tasting experience.
"This is yummy", came the affirmations from the two girls who had no idea what they were drinking.
It had juicy, plummy flavours that reminded me of Merlot, a spiciness and juicy sweetness that reminded me of Shiraz and later a whiff of tomato on the nose that I sometimes find in Cabernet Sauvignon. And then there was that savoury, smoky factor as well that, no doubt from the oak but the savouriness could have easily come from the grape.
"Is it the Pinotage?" I asked Neil, the wine pourer.
"Yes", he said.
I had an advantage. I knew there was a Pinotage floating around in the tasting box I'd taken to my sisters' place, in fact the Te Awa Pinotage made from Hawkes Bay grapes grown in the fantastic 2002 vintage. And I'd also tasted the wine before at a dinner in October. Just one small glass though as when I went back for another pour the bottle, that time, was empty.

Mention Pinotage to some of the older generation drinkers of New Zealand wine and you will probably see them visibly shudder. They canít shake the memory of some of the awful 1960's-1970's era wine purportedly made from this grape. But let's face it guys, there were plenty of wines from that era that were horribly awful and Pinotage, the high-hoped for import from South Africa, was at times unfairly made the scapegoat. At other times Pinotage wines were simply awful because they were simply awful, but blame that on the viticulture and winemaking practices, not the grape. The clue lies in Frank Thorpy's book "Wine in New Zealand", published in 1971. "I have never liked this grape", he wrote. "Its great asset to the grower is that it is prolific and stands humid conditions. It produces a very pale wine, and colouring matter or wine of a deep colour has to be added in."
These writings indicate to me that the vine was probably overcropped and picked when underripe because Pinotage has deeply coloured skins that are deep purple almost black when ripe for harvest.
And weren't those the days when some less than scrupulous winemakers added water to their wines? Pinotage quickly went out of fashion.

Today's winemakers are fastidious operators and high flying producers like Te Awa, Babich and Muddy Water wouldnít persevere with an unpopular grape unless they knew it could produce good wine. So they learnt how to make it correctly. That meant finding out how the highest quality Pinotage wines from South Africa were made and following that recipe, or making it like they would a high quality New Zealand Pinot Noir.

Te Awa Pinotage 2002 was made from grapes grown to controlled crop levels then hand harvested for fermentation in open topped vats with hand plunging aiding the extract of the ripe tannins the grapes had to offer. After 8 days of post ferment maceration the wine was pressed to barrel and thereafter was subjected to minimal, gentle handling. Only 15% new French oak barrels were used so the distinctive Pinotage aroma was not masked. The wine stayed in barrel 14 months and was bottled in July 2003. The wine is closed with a cork, carries 13% alcohol by volume and costs $29.95 a bottle. You can buy it online from

Te Awa Pinotage 2002 is ripe, round and beautifully balanced with sweet fruit and savoury oak. It is a big gutsy wine with lots of appeal, a 'drink now' wine as once opened that is what you will want to do. I donít think it benefits from sitting around in the bottle a couple of days, but unopened it is a wine that is destined to cellar to at least 2010.

The following day the remains of the Te Awa Pinotage 2002 were put head to head with the Babich Winemakers Reserve Pinotage 2002, also from Hawkes Bay and the Muddy Water Pinotage 2003 from Waipara. These two wines also come highly recommended.

Babich Winemakers Reserve Pinotage 2002 is deep ruby red with good density, though not quite opaque. More of a fruity style, it is crammed full of sweet berry fruit and plums, creamy vanillin oak with cinnamon and clove-like spices, soft rounded velvety tannins and a tarry savouriness to the long, ripe full-flavoured finish. It is a very user-friendly, drinkable wine, lots of fruit, lots of oak, nice balanced, ready now. Babich has been making Pinotage since the early New Zealand Pinotage era but their efforts are now concentrated on new Pinotage vineyards in the Gimblett Gravels region of Hawkes Bay. The proof is in the tasting that this was the right thing to do. This cork-closed wine carries 14% alcohol and costs $24.95. Find out more from

Muddy Water Pinotage 2003 is a little lighter in its bright purple red colour with a more gemmy translucency and emits plenty of spicy meaty oak, red berries and tar on the nose with an earthy pinot noir-like nuance. Grainy tannins give a denseness to the texture with good acidity cutting through the tannins to let the spicy fruit show through. Plum, fruit cake spices, mushroom and creamy meaty oak, perhaps some spiced roasted cherry and herbs coming through on the dry finish to leave an earthy, dusky, tarry aftertaste lifted by acidity reminiscent of spiced orange zest. This is a more youthful wine with excellent potential, needing just a little more time to integrate. In fact this wine showed better the second day when it exhibited a chocolate raisin richness to the succulent fruitcake like fruit and spices. It carries 14.8% alcohol, costs $28 and is sealed with a screwcap. Be quick for this one, just 120 cases were made. Find out more from

And while we are on the subject of Pinotage I have to mention the Lincoln Heritage Collection Pinotage 2003 from Gisborne. This deep ruby coloured wine has nice use of oak, soft tannins, juicy berry and plum fruit and a savoury, rustic finish. Partially fermented with wild yeasts and matured in French oak for 12 months, it is closed with a screwcap, contains 13.5% alc and costs just $16 a bottle.

What food should you accompany Pinotage with? It think it is perfect for smoky foods on the BBQ and this time I made herbed meat patties to cook on the barbie together with thick slices of potatoes and kumara while slow roasted eggplants and tomatoes were cooked in the oven. I would omit the kumara next time. The patties were excellent with all the wines while the tomatoes were perfect with the Muddy Water.

To make the patties, take about 500 grams of minced beef and mix in freshly picked herbs from the garden or kitchen pots. I used mint, basil, parsley, chives, thyme and coriander. Blend up with 2 slices of bread and mix into the meat together with salt and pepper. Add an egg to bind and a splash of teriyaki marinade. Form into patties. Put into the fridge for about half an hour. Then cook on the barbecue plate. While I used beef, minced lamb would be excellent too.

Further Pinotage Reading

© Sue Courtney
2 January 2005

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