Wine influencers and winemakers were invited to taste and review this year’s Absa Top 10 Pinotage finalist wines at a blind tasting hosted by The Pinotage Association at Meerendal.

Post by Bernard Mocke .


The photo above, taken by me at the recent Absa Top 10 Pinotage finalists blind tasting, might be just another typical wine tasting photo, but it belies the exceptional quality and diversity encountered. So much so that it is sad that only 10 winners will ultimately be crowned at the 2019 Absa Top 10 Pinotage event.

In order to better explore this year’s finalists both media and winemakers were invited to participate in this blind tasting at Meerendal. This novel concept affords participants the chance to taste the 20 finalists and then decide which wines they thought will be the 2019 Absa Top 10 Pinotage Winners. After the blind tasting the identity of the 20 wines were revealed.

“Fascinating! The spread of favourite wines is just fascinating! There is absolutely no clear winner!” This comment was made after a show of hands to determine favourites following the tasting. To me this is very promising, seeing that it shows the versatility of South Africa’s top Pinotage wines. There seems to be a Pinotage wine style for every discerning palate.

Winnie Bowman, judging panel convener, lauded the exceptional quality of the finalists and also mentioned how few faulty wines were encountered this year.

During the event I was fortunate to get direct feedback from various attending winemakers, one of them fitness and cycling fanatic, Braam Gericke of Wildekrans. Wildekrans is no stranger to the Absa Top 10 Pinotage and attributes the farm’s success with Pinotage to their very own holy trinity. “Vineyard, wood regime and yeast,” says Braam. “By managing these three elements well our terroir and fruit does all the talking, with the wood offering harmonious support and integration.

“Quality starts in the vineyard and the fact that our best Pinotage block came second in this year’s Vinpro block competition says it all. The vines in this block are planted on decomposed shale on a south-eastern slope, with 500 metres above sea level elevation. The south-eastern wind acts like a giant air conditioner and is a great partner to our viticulture efforts.” Braam’s soft-spoken words made me contemplate the partnership between man and nature as I scanned the room for another winemaker to chat with.

I next caught up with Clayton Reabow who joined Môreson in 2007. Clayton, being an inquisitive and daring winemaker, promptly started experimenting with Pinotage. He soon found out that he was over thinking and overworking his Pinotage. “I tried many different approaches with our Pinotage, including cold fermentation, punch downs every two hours, early picking which resulted in a lighter style wine with 12 – 13 % alcohol and fermentation of whole bunches,” Clayton says. “For me the journey with Pinotage on Môreson turned out to be a legacy project, with many lessons learned. The process is much simpler now and the vintage ultimately decides how the wine will be made.”

I also had the good fortune of talking with Matthew Copeland, winemaker at Vondeling. This year was the first year their Pinotage appeared in the Top 20. Matthew proudly shared some of his thoughts with me. “As far as wowing Pinotage people is concerned, the Absa Top 10 Pinotage is the biggest event there is,” he says. “Our 2016 vintage, only the third ever Pinotage vintage at Vondeling, made it to the finals. We are absolutely thrilled.”

Matthew shared some of his viticulture and oenology lore with me, but most compelling was his viewpoint on the relationship between South Africa and Pinotage. “South Africa has an unique selling point (USP) – this is Pinotage. It is our only USP. If you want to put yourself out there, you have to capitalise on it. The name, Pinotage, is already out there and well-known in the global wine community. As a producer of Pinotage you simply need to back up the varietal’s name with quality.”

Next up was winemaker Willie Malan of Overhex, who gave me some background on their Survivor wine range. “We started making the first Survivor wines in 2014, which was 100 % Pinotage. Although we made the Top 10 in 2015, making the Top 20 this year is already an incredible feeling. This is very good news, not only for Overhex and its Survivor wine range, but also for South Africa. Our Survivor range has since grown from 1 500 bottles to 10 000 bottles and also features a Sauvignon blanc, Chenin blanc, Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.”

Willie admits that Pinotage once had a bad reputation, but that a lot has been done to collectively improve this varietal’s name. Gone are the days of yore, when Pinotage reveled in its Bad Boy image. “We have moved away from the robust and over extracted styles and rather towards a more elegant and balanced style, abundant in red fruit and spice aromas.”

Towards the end of this tasting I had a quick word with Beyers Truter, who needs no introduction, and we concluded that the “blockbuster style” Pinotage is, thankfully, gone forever. That the modern styles that showcase complexity, balance and terroir have taken over. That Pinotage can do well in pretty much any South African wine region. And that the young winemakers of today are in sync with their terroir.

For a list of the finalists, click on this link:

An article written by Bernard Mocke (Facebook: @smokingpun)