I was quite taken aback when I saw on Twitter recently a conversation between some of my UK colleagues along the lines of ‘how to love nebbiolo’ with specific reference to Barolo and Barbaresco. The inference was that it takes time. Not something that bothered me, I was hooked after tasting my first bottle; whether it was a Barolo, Barbaresco or nebbiolo from one of the other designated areas in the Piedmont area, I can’t remember, but it was addiction at first taste – tannins and all. But then I do love tannins, succulent grape tannins that is, wine plastered with oak tannins is too much like chewing splinters.
Of course, the one drawback with Barbaresco or Barolo is the price; good ones don’t come cheap, but from other parts of Piedmont, a Langhe nebbiolo for instance, from a quality producer, can offer a good alternative and good value.
There’s also a case for steps in ‘how to love pinot noir, although the intimidating factor is unlikely to be tannins, but could be all to do with price. Leaving aside Burgundy itself, which is now priced in the stratosphere – in £s, let alone Rands – local pinot noirs also have a price drawback for the average punter. Most cost well over the three figure mark, which doesn’t tempt novices. The trouble is pinot doesn’t do ordinary, which in less than understanding hands, it too often can be, especially when made in the manner of cabernet or other more tannic red varieties.
On the other hand, sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc, cabernet sauvignon and shiraz can produce perfectly drinkable, if not particularly complex wines, often well under R100.
It is very difficult to find pinots under R100. A bit of research among twitter friends drew a short list at this level; of those, I’m familiar with the Newton Johnson’s Felicité, Haute Cabrière Unwooded, De Bos, Elgin Vintners and De Morgenzon for Woolworths. Depending on your taste, these would all pass muster. I cannot vouch for Peter Falke, Katvis, Quando, van Loveren Blue Velvet or Rietvallei, none of which I’m familiar with. By far the majority of South African pinot noirs fall into the R100 plus price range.
I’m happy to say, it would be a pity, given the steep upward curve of quality, if winelovers didn’t venture a little deeper into their pockets. Yes, South African pinot noir has come a long way since Tim Hamilton Russell started his eponymous winery in the Hemel en Aarde valley back in the late 1970s. I think the valley itself is now synonymous with pinot (and chardonnay for that matter), so it’s appropriate that the valley’s producers have got together for this weekend’s Hemel en Aarde Pinot Celebration. I’m very much looking forward to it, especially the comprehensive tasting of the valley’s pinots, which I already feel show differences depending on where they are grown. Those from the lower part of the valley appear to be denser with more tannic structure, whereas further up, there’s a cooler, purer fruited profile. But let’s see if that’s repeated at Friday’s horizontal tasting. Given what I’ve said about Burgundy prices, the red Burgundy tasting which follows the local one, will be a real bonus.
I see from what my colleague, Tim James, wrote in his latest blog, word of this celebration doesn’t appear to have spread to beyond the wheat curtain, though I believe it is sold out.
Hopefully it will become an annual event as, on paper, this year’s programme sounds well thought out and good value – an excellent introduction for any timidly dipping a toe into pinot.
Of course, the Hemel en Aarde valley isn’t the only area producing good pinot. I was recently directed (by one half of the winemaking team) to a new one from a vineyard close to Faure in Stellenbosch. Coincidentally, the other half of the winemaking team is of the same name; Jeanine Faure, by day, winemaker at Dornier; out of hours, producer, with her other half (Aussie, Mick Craven, – who insists she’s his ‘better half!’ – by day, himself part of the Mulderbosch winemaking team) of Antipodean wines. So far the range is limited to this pinot, but there’s a syrah, clairette blanche and an ‘orange’ pinot gris potentially on the cards this year.
Their philosophy of ‘less is more’ means the only addition was a little sulphur and, while the wine did spend time in oak, ‘not a barrel was newer than 3 years old was used,’ insists Craven. He’s a ‘huge believer’ in whole-bunch ferments, which provides a greater level of freshness and purity. Attributes which I also very much like in pinot and find in this wine, which clocks in at a reasonable 13.5% alcohol. What really appeals even now is the dark (as opposed to strawberry red) fruit and, behind the sparky freshness, pinot’s seductive silkiness.
As usual, I savoured the wine over two or three evenings, so can safely say patience over the next few (3 to 4 years?) will be rewarded. And you get all this for R129.50 (well, at Wine Concepts, where I bought the wine).
Frankly, I’d much prefer spending that little bit more and getting much more in the bottle. Though I can’t see any reason why that holy grail winemakers talk of when thinking about pinot, shouldn’t be sought in delicious, unpretentious pinots under R100.
Oh, the attractive Antipodean label, which is in fashionable wrap-around form. As you might guess from the photo, the scene depicts the Faure farm with the little red patch, the pinot noir vineyard from which the wine is made. The plan is to continue this theme with the other single vineyard wines.
May your love affair with pinot noir arrive with joy, give much pleasure and long endure.