edited by Sue Courtney
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Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
It is hard to believe that Pinotage was once the preferred red grape variety of the New Zealand winemakers. But that was when there was less than 100 producers nationwide in a wine nation that at the time didnít know what a perfect place the South Island would be for growing grapes. In the 1960's and 70's the epicentre of the New Zealand wine industry was Auckland and the Pinotage grape was the new great red hope. The grape was from South Africa and did so well in that Southern Hemisphere climate, it was believed it would do well here too. The problem was that many of the producers had other not so tasty, foxy-flavoured hybrid grapes that they had to use up so they blended these with the Pinotage in undisclosed amounts. Many awful wines were produced and the scars still remain today. You can see some of the drinkers from that era cringe as they remember the experience.
However not every producer was at fault and some have persevered with this grape that at its best sits somewhere between Pinot Noir and Shiraz/Syrah in its structure and taste. It can be a little Merlot-like and I admit that in blind tastings I've often confused the full bodied styles with Merlot while the lighter styles can be reminiscent of Pinot Noir.
Key characters are an earthy savoury, sometimes gamey backbone with red berries, cherries and plums and good acidity.
With new clones and modern winemaking, Pinotage offers a delicious mouthfilling and robust tasty drink.
Babich Wines in Henderson has a long history with the Pinotage grape though now they have vineyards in Hawkes Bay and along with the more popular varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, they've planted their old favourite Pinotage too.
Babich Winemakers Reserve Hawkes Bay Pinotage 2002 from the Gimblett Gravels region in Hawkes Bay came top of my mini-tasting. It is densely coloured dark plum red with lovely ripe winey flavour together with cedary oak, wild berries and a tamarillo-like tartness to the dusky finish. As the wine opens up the sweet vanillin American oak becomes more obvious, leaving a chocolatey richness to the finish. This was very good with lamb cutlets that had been slowly braised in sauvignon blanc and then the following night with pizza that had a topping of onions, mushrooms, capsicums, tomatoes, pineapple, olives, garlic, feta and spicy salami .
It carries 14% alcohol and is a well-priced wine, just $24.95 recommended retail. Read more about it on the Babich website by clicking here.
The other two wines in my tasting should certainly not be ignored.
The deep red coloured Saints Marlborough Pinotage 2001 is ripe, fruity and savoury with tobacco, leather, liquorice and firm tannins. It's an earthy wine with a merlotesque quality, sweet American oak and just a hint of mint on the dark, dusky, velvety tannined finish. Youthful for its age with good acidity and lingering fruitcake cherries, it's drinking well now with plenty of life ahead of it. 13.5% alc.
Saints Hawkes Bay Pinotage 2002 is dense red-black in colour. Quite savoury, a little leathery and earthy with firm tannins and plenty of rich red berry fruit that leads to a long sustained finish with spicy vanillin oak lingering. Fruity with structure, it shows the quality of the excellent 2002 Hawkes Bay vintage.
Read more about the history of Pinotage in New Zealand by clicking here.
© Sue Courtney
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