When I first got interested in wines, I was working for Malmaison. The only good thing they ever did for me was to put me through the WSET courses upto my Advanced level. Once I had achieved my higher level they made me the wine buff for my hotel. This meant that I got advance tastings of the wine-lists before they changed and I was then responsable for spreading that information back within my hotel. It was at one of these tastings that I tasted my first pinotage from South Africa. I still have the tasting notes and the dominant character was an earthy manure aroma. There was no fruit present at all. And the wine consultant who selected all the wines described this as a perfect example of South African pinotage.
Its a shame really because I think he did the wine a terrible dis-service, as I recently discovered upon tasting several fantastic pinotages that DONT smell of poo. Now I dont really know for sure if those wines were poor quality, faulty, or maybe that really was what South African pinotage was all about nearly eight years ago. I kind of hope that it is the latter, and that Pinotage is now emerging as a serious grape that has a lot of potential.
The first wine is from Hermanus a coastal town in the Walker bay district. Southern Rights Pinotage is produced by Anthony Hamilton Russell. With the wines being matured in 20% new oak, there are some woody tones, but the dominant flavours are the fruit - black fruits, brambles and cherries with a hint of cedar, leather and spices. This is a clean, vibrant wine that would work well with lamb, mutton, veal and even venison.
The other wine is a new addition to our list, and I have to admit it came about from following the hype online about a brand called Stormhoek. As Ive delved into the online world of wine-writing Ive discovered several wine blogs which is where I came to read about an enterprising winery from South Africa that was causing a sensation across the bloggosphere. The hype was being generated by them giving away bottles of wine to bloggers in order to host a series of dinners, they aimed for 100 dinners in 100 days. The thing is the feedback was very positive, the wines were being well recieved. So I decided to have a looksee and see if the product lived up the hype being generated. Which is how one day back in the middle of summer Garech Byrne from Orbital wines (their UK distributor) came to be sitting opposite me in the library with a bag of tank samples. Now tank samples are a bit different to the real deal, because they havent been treated or stabilised, so they arent always a great judge of the final product. However I was sufficiently impressed by both the Sauvignon and the Pinotage to agree to list them both. Even better the price came in on the pinotage at such a good rate, that I was actually able to list it by the glass. So I was somewhat delighted last thursday when the stock eventually arrived. I must say that if I though the tank samples were good, then by heck the final product is the dogs doobries. Bags of ripe luscious fruit, think of a brambly ribena mixed with a cassis martini. The ladies absolutely love it!!! And it slips down so easily. So its called Stormhoek Siren and the whole product was designed in an open source style with active feedback from the wine and tech communities. (see www.stormhoek.com for more on the process).
Anyway its re-awakened my perceptions of South African pinotage and as an aside it helped to introduce me to several fantastic new wines from South Africa also imported by Orbital. Guys like Bruwer Raats who makes the most amazing chenins and Cabernet Franc, Jack & Knox who find these obscure vineyards in off beat places with great fruit and make some limited editions wines. Their Frostline riesling puts most new world riesling to shame. So jumping onto the Stormhoek bandwagon helped to introduce me to several new wines and changed my view of a classic South African grape. Ill never drink another wine that smells of poo again! (I hope!!)