Zooming in on Pinotage

The road to Delheim, Stellenbosch, South Africa

I have a confession to make – My previous experiences with South African Pinotage has not been great. I admit it hasn’t been extensive, but past forays into this grape, the crossing of Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (known as Hermitage in South Africa, hence the combined name), have found a bold, jammy red wine, that hasn’t enthralled.

However, having built a global network of like minded friends over the year that has been 2020 around a mutual enjoyment of The Wine Show, the friendships have moved on to our own regular Zoom get togethers, sipping a wine, and enjoying conversations. The “Global Gang” has incorporated Canada, the US, Germany, The Netherlands, the UK, and myself in Ireland, and this week, Shawna, one of our American participants, suggested that we all seek out a Pinotage, and see what we think.

I did a little research, and Pinotage is not a very popular style here in Ireland, making the choices limited. I understood that Kanonkop was the brand to seek out, but with the problems that South African Wineries have been facing under the Covid Regulations in their homeland, where a complete ban on alcohol was in force for long periods, the ability to import their wines has been dealt a significant blow, and supplies were difficult to source.

A discussion with the Manager of my local Wine Store lead me to a winery I was familar with for their excellent Chardonnay, and located just down the road from the Kanonkop Winery in Stellenbosch, the family owner Delheim Winery Estate, on the slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain. With a ringing endorsement, I took the 2017 home with me, and looked forward to the tatsting.

A post on Twitter seeking advice on decanting, lead me to opening the bottle around 90 minutes beforehand, taking a taste at the time. Clearly the wine was closed, and I hoped that the decant and the air would seek its reward.

It did….

In fine style. Once we were all on line, chatting away, I poured myself a glass, and the rich crimson coloured liquid emerged into my glass. A very strong aroma of red fruits, strawberries and raspberries was prevalent, with hints of vanilla, leading me to believe some oak was in play.

With the strong fruits, I was expecting, from past experiences, a jammy mouthful, but was pleased to note that the fruits mellowed in the mouth, with moderate acidity, and balanced tannins, allowing the flavours to expand on the palate, cranberries, plums, a slight earthiness, and although the alcohol level was reading 14%, there was no burning sensation on the finish that didn’t overstay its welcome, rounding off an enjoyable glass.

My friends enjoyed varying styles, in various countries, with a couple of bottles showing coffee, mocha, hints to their wine, and another finding their choice shared the jammy sensations of ripe fruit. I definitely struck an educational wine, given my pre-conception that I was drinking a grape, and style that I wasn’t going to enjoy. I was very pleasantly surprised by the wine, and while it may not displace my usual array of wines gathering dust on my racks, I would be happy to return to Stellenbosch and Pinotage of this quality in the future.

Zoom and Margaux – Zede de Labegorce 2015

Given the unusual circumstances we find ourselves in during 2020 (a year to forget!), my Wine Club has taken to Zoom, and we “tasted” two bottles last night, with this being the Red of choice, (The White Burgundy to be reviewed later). Unlike a normal tasting where a small sample is sipped and dissected, in my case as well as sipping and discussing, I finished the bottle off later in the evening with my dinner.

Initial impression I had was that this was still too young, at 5 years old, possibly more atune to the fact I didn’t decant and let aerate for long enough before the chat began. For a Margaux with 50% Cab Sauvignon, the nose felt flat, difficult to gain any fruit, in fact, difficult to get any distinctive aromas. In the mouth, there was the usual flavours of black, bramble berries, with a hint of smokiness, and the vanilla essence you always get from oaked Bordeaux, albeit subtle in this case. There was a hint of mint or eucalyptus also there, and the tannins, although not gripping, were still present long after a swallow.

As I said, initially I wasn’t overly impressed, but as the chat went on, and we righted all the wrongs in the World of Lockdowns and Elections, and I later returned to the wine, it had opened up more, giving a more flavoursome release of aromas, and softened on the palate.

As I say, I do believe that this will develop and improve with a few years hiding away in a dark cellar, although if decanted and allowed to breath and open up, it is certainly drinkable now, and my final impressions, changed from the first, were of a very satisfactory second wine from a top Margaux Chateau.

Recommended (Possibly wait until 2025 to see it at its best)….