With Peter May, founder of the Pinotage Club, arriving in the country this weekend just past, I've had Pinotage on my mind all week. Planning a Pinotage tasting, requesting samples, chasing up lost samples (some that still haven't arrived) and plotting Pinotage wine tasting tours. Pinotage even invades my sleeping moments. So not surprisingly a Pinotage is my Wine of the Week. But when you've tasted 30 different wines, which one is to going to be?
I posed the question in our Pinotage tasting last night.
"You've got thirty wines, so you've got 30 successive 'Wines of the Week' right in front of you," joked Peter, who never misses an opportunity to champion his favourite wine varietal.
"Um, it doesn't quite work like that, Peter. It's 'Wine of the Week', not 'Wine of Last Week', 'Wine of Two Weeks ago', 'Wine of Three Weeks ago' and so on".
The wine tasting was arranged in three flights.
First a short flight of six wines which included two bubbles and four RosÚs. One of the bubbles was Soljans Sienna Methode Traditionelle Rouge, a wine I reviewed as
Wine of the Week in 2002 and this particular bottle had been in my refrigerator at least two years. Still quite interesting - lost all its fruitiness but still plenty of spice and punch with a cherry sweetness to the finish. "It would be better without the bubbles," said Peter, who thought it could do with more time!!! I thought the wine was fun.
I also thought Soljans Rakelina Sparkling Rose NV was fun. Clean, fresh and lightly sweetish with a beguiling colour, red fruit aromas and flavours and lots of foamy fizz.
Peter didn't think much of the RosÚ's either. I liked the Matua Valley North Island Pinotage 2007, a wine that came up well in my RosÚ tasting a couple of weeks ago. Gorgeous deep watermelon / ruby, a tug of sweet and dry in the palate, wild berry fruit and a succulent finish. This and Soljans Two Sisters Rose 2007, which was similar in colour but perhaps a little sweeter, showed better than the two 2006 RosÚ wines.
"Don't know why they bother," said Peter in reference to all the pinks.
There were 22 'proper' Pinotages, as Peter referred to them - wines made as red wines, not as fashion statements.
"What are you looking for in Pinotage?" I asked the expert.
"I am looking for a good drinkable wine," said Peter. He said many people pigeon hole South African Pinotage with derogatory descriptors that don't really apply. "The more I taste, the less I know what it is meant to be like," he adds. " It is made in so many ways. These wines seem lighter. Is it New Zealand? Is is the winemaking?"
"So what about the character of the variety?"
His answer infers a well attuned Northern Hemisphere palate. "It should have the warm red berry fruitiness of Southern Rhone, the spiciness of Zinfandel and a bit of a bite on the finish, as in a Northern Italian red. Perhaps a bit of gaminess too."
The wines were split into two flights of 11 for tasting with the top wines for each taster recalled for a final 'best ' flight so we could rank the wines. It turned out that Neil had basically put them into ascending order of age, with the 2005's split between the two flights, but there were more good wines in the second flight, perhaps because they were younger and more vibrant.
The final taste-off, four wines from the first flight, and six from the second flight was poured in random order.
My top wine of the tasting rated in everyone's 'top' picks. It was the only wine to do so. And because it was my favourite wine, it has the honour of 'Wine of the Week'.
It's the Muddy Water Pinotage 2006 from Waipara, one of only two South Island wines in the tasting.
Initially I thought it may be a little older because it's ruby red colour wasn't as bright as some of the almost luminescent blue-red wines, and the opacity was deeply translucent rather than opaque, but it was revealed to be 2006.
I liked this wine for many reasons. The lovely savouriness and chocolate box on the nose and the richness, savouriness, spiciness and complexity in the palate. Not overly fruity but with more depth than some of the others, a little more robustness, a little more texture, a little more power - and the slightest suggestion of musk. I love that character. Good acidity too, well-balanced acidity that carries the length. And on the lingering finish there's a rusticity that could only come from the Pinotage grape.
The screwcapped wine costs $32, it has a whopping 15% alcohol and was the most expensive wine in the tasting. Find out more from
My runner up wine was Okahu Northland Pinotage 2006 and in third place was Te Awa Hawkes Bay Pinotage 2006.
It was clear there was some divergence to our palate preferences. I had picked the 'big' wines. Peter had picked two more 'medium-bodied' styles. Ascension 'The Parable' Matakana Pinotage 2006 was his top pick while the just bottled Soljans Gisborne Pinotage 2007 was second. But he also had the Muddy Water 2006 in equal second so at least we came to agreement there.
Neil's top wine was Hihi Gisborne Pinotage 2004. This was unanimously agreed on by everyone to be returned for the taste-off and I rated it solid silver medal quality in the first flight. A big wine with still some bright red to its colour, with velvety tannins, a fruit cake nuttiness, hints of marzipan and a sweet savouriness lingering with cherry. Neil's number two wine was Ascension Pinotage 2006 and Okahu 2006 was Number 3. He rated my favourite Muddy Water as number 4.
I found it really interesting that Peter couldn't pick out the South African wine, a Beyers Truter Stellenbosch Pinotage 2005. After our vineyard tasting on Saturday and Sunday, he thought the South African would stand out. But it didn't. So perhaps New Zealand Pinotage is not as polarised to the South African wines as he originally thought. It was the last wine in the first flight and Peter rated it his #1 of that flight. I loved the colour and aroma but found it a bit of a let down in the palate. "Perhaps it needs decanting," I wrote. Nevertheless, it did not make anyone's top three in the final taste-off.
So the wines made the Top 10 recall, in my ranking order, were
From flight one:
Lincoln Gisborne Pinotage 2004 ($18)
Hihi Gisborne Pinotage 2004 ($19)
Marsden Estate Bay of Islands Pinotage 2004 ($24)
Beyers Truter Stellenbosch Pinotage 2005 (Sth Africa)
From Flight two:
Muddy Water Waipara Pinotage 2006 ($32)
Okahu Northland Pinotage 2006 ($28)
Te Awa Hawkes Bay Pinotage 2006 ($30)
Kerr Farm P06 Kumeu Pinotage 2006 ($20)
Ascension 'The Parable' Matakana Pinotage 2006 ($25)
Soljans Gisborne Pinotage 2007 ($18)
Thanks to all the producers who sent in samples. I am sure it was a great eye-opener and a wonderful experience for Peter. He will no doubt 'blog' some of his findings.
Update: 20 Nov 2007: All my notes have now been posted to my Pinotage review pages or Pink Wines pages.
They are annotated with "Peter May's Pinotage Tasting: 11Nov2007."
© Sue Courtney
12 Nov 2007