Cape Town - Profiling pinotage in 2012 is a very different ball game compared to 1997 when the first Absa Top 10 competition was launched. In 1998, Platter listed 23 cellars as producers of good pinotage of 1995 to 1997 vintages. In the current edition, pinotages rated three and four stars fill nearly a page of small print.
This year, the annual contest attracted 132 entries with judging panel convenor Duimpie Bayly proclaiming that the top line-up could hold their own among the world’s greatest reds.
When I first encountered pinotage in the mid-80s, it was the one wine I always identified correctly in blind-tastings during a wine course held by Gilbeys; this was because they all seemed to emit aromas of acetone, or nail-polish remover.
Today, pinotage comes as red, white or pink, still or sparkling. Even the conventional reds are made in a number of styles, with the best presenting something between Old and New World in character, offering sound structure and good balance between fruit and wood. Those that taste more of espresso and cocoa than grapes still have a following and not only in this country: Cape exports prove that there are fans among Swedish and Canadian consumers as well.
At the top end of the market, not only has quality soared over the past decade, but so have quantities and brands. Produced in the 1930s from a cross between pinot noir and cinsaut or hermitage as it was known then, this uniquely South African grape is always celebrated during September month, as with the Top 10 results.
This year, Durbanville produced three winners, all 2011 vintage, ranging in price from R120 (Durbanville Hills), through R95 (Altydgedacht) to R67 (Diemersdal).
Great news for sulphur-sensitive winelovers is the recently released Stellenzicht 2009 pinotage in the Cellarmaster Release range, with no added sulphites. This full-bodied wine sells for R125 from the farm.
From Franschhoek, the 2011 screwcapped Allée Bleue Starlette pinotage (R42) is a good buy for first-time pinotage drinkers looking for juicy, fruity reds that can be chilled and enjoyed all year round.
Also for light-hearted consumption, the budget-beating Obikwa rosé pinotage 2012 (R27) offers a fruity but dry companion to spring picnics. If you prefer your pinotage with bubbles, it would be hard to improve on Villiera’s Tradition Rosé Brut where over 60 percent pinotage is blended with chardonnay and pinot noir for earthy, fruity sparkling enjoyment (R71 at cellar door).
Celebrate innovation by sampling the Mellasat White Pinotage: it may have started off as a one-barrel curiosity, but today, the fifth vintage will fill 400 cases at this boutique Paarl cellar off the N1.
Stephen Richardson, formerly a Norfolk farmer, grew the grapes on his Klein Drakenstein farm Dekkersvlei, whole-bunch pressed the harvest to prevent the juice obtaining colour from the skins, then kept the wine in Romanian oak for nine months. Tropical fruit is augmented by a nuttiness backed by pleasing depth of flavour. It sells for R120 ex-cellar.
* The Top 10 pinotages in the 2012 Absa contest are:
Durbanville Hills 2011
Painted Wolf 2009
Rijks Private Cellar 2008
Simonsig Redhill 2010
Spier 21 Gables 2010
Swartland Bush Vines 2010
Wellington Wines La Cave 2010
Windmeul Reserve 2011. - Weekend Argus