The departure of Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher from the cellar of the Wall Street Journal has robbed Pinotage of a pair of powerful advocates. Speculation on the web is that saving money lies behind the demise of “Tastings.” This from the introduction to Pinotage: the soul of SA wine, my still-born book on the national grape and USP of SA wine:
Pinotage is the most controversial grape in the world. Vergelegen winemaker André van Rensburg, twice winner of the Pichon Lalande Trophy for best red blend at the International Wine & Spirit Competition in London says “don’t steal, rape, or murder – or make Pinotage” and sometimes he’s rude about the grape. UK wine writer Jamie Goode, pundit on the Sunday Express, and recent guest in SA of WOSA (Wines of SA, the exporters’ mouthpiece) was even more outspoken.
“Pinotage is vile. In fact, I’ve thought of both a new competition, and also a new way to assess wine show judges based on this variety. The new competition is for the World’s Least Vile Pinotage, and perhaps I should brand this with my name to make it an excercise [sic] in ugly self-promotion (as some other, nameless, writers do with top 100s and the like). And the new way to assess wine show judges is to give them a glass of Pinotage. If they say it’s OK, they’re sacked. If they dislike it, they are in. If they take a sip, cuss loudly and expel the contents from their mouths rapidly, then they are senior judges.”
Lined up in the opposite corner are Wall Street Journal columnists Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher who recommend Pinotage for “wonderful wine drinking” for under $20 while the 2009 of Platter (a sighted tasting guide) awards top marks (five stars) to the single varietal Johan Malan Simonsig Redhill Pinotage 2006 as well as Danie Steytler’s Kaapzicht Steytler Vision 2005 Cape blend, a previous vintage of which also trousered a Pichon Lalande, comme André.
Are these pundits tasting the same wines? Style and vintage differences could explain wildly differing assessments as bottle maturation can transform an aggressive, primary wine into a complex red with many layers of flavour and minerality. Another explanation could be the rubber fetishism of many members of the UK wine corps or is loudly rejecting Pinotage a not-so-subtle form of me-to-ism, cultural cringe, wine snobbism, or humptydumptyism?
The SA cellar is full of Pinotage. The 2009 edition of Platter lists over 340 – 55 rating (admittedly sighted) four stars or better – and this is by no means an inclusive list as increasing numbers of producers (from supermarket chains like Spar to boutique producers) withhold their wines from the guide in silent protest at sighted assessments. With so many styles of Pinotage available on supermarket and specialist shelves a tastemap is a useful consumer aid for navigating the exotic diversity this grape brings to the SA table and cellar.
From the rich coffee/mocha exuberance of Diemersfontein and KWV Café Culture (voted top SA red at the 2007 Vietnam International Wine Challenge) through the fresh and fruity pleasures of Altydgedacht and Diemersdal to the elegant finesse of an Ashbourne and Scali, the plethora of Pinotage brands available can be daunting.
This year marks the 50th birthday of the first vintage of South Africa’s only indigenous grape. The first commercial bottling of Pinotage was a ’59 vintage released in 1960 and four years later, that great social observer of the Cape, Lawrence Green, was advising “remember the name Pinotage if you want some of the best red wine the Cape can offer. Pinotage is a Cape product, designed as it were for the soil and climate.” In 1961 the Lanzerac ’59 won the Grand Championship Trophy at the Cape Young Wine Show and it’s been popular with SA consumers ever since.
Neil, I’d like to make it clear that the comment of mine you quote was meant in jest. While I’m not overly keen on Pinotage, I was being naughty. I’m actually quite open minded, and on my recent trip enjoyed a few really good ones.
Pretty sick joke, Jamie.
I’m sure readers will make up their own minds about your comments.
Well done to WOSA for bringing narrow-minded jokers to the Cape, but I fear the joke is on us!
It’s pointless for any detractor of Pinotage to taste it sighted. Get some good, older (this is very important) Pinotages and Pinotage blends and chuck them in a blind tasting with a variety of other good & older wines, without telling anyone.
I can’t recall anyone who’s had a good, uninfected, well-matured Pinotage blind and didn’t like it. Much like Pinot Noir, it’s quite difficult to find a good one in good condition, but it’s invariably special if you do.
I’m salivating all over my keyboard as I recall recent encounters with 2001 Bellevue PK Morkel Pinotage and 1992 Kanonkop Pinotage!
This reminds me of the joke about Riedel bringing out a Pinotage glass – with a hole in the bottom!
Blind taste it? So you have to trick people into liking it? Bizarre!
Never had an example of this variety I have wanted to swallow!