Pinot noir, grenache noir, cinsaut; there can be few more trendy red varieties in South Africa right now. As their popularity grows, so winemakers are adapting their methods (mental attitude?) of vinification: out go over-extraction and over-oaking, in come focus on purity, gentleness and freshness. Even alcohol levels are going down a beneficial notch or two. It would be wrong to say these attributes apply to every example – they don’t – but generally, this new genre of red wines is growing in number. They make most satisfying drinking without being at all facile.
If it’s not stretching the imagination too much, I don’t think I’d be entirely wrong to claim there’s been a concomitant improvement in the quality of rosé, especially those crafted from those three varieties. They are becoming imbued with more personality; colours, fruit profile and structure are more individual; there is an aura of seriousness about them, leaving behind that often vapid, sweet pink wine of yesterday.
It helps that rosé is fashionable and that there are many young vines which winemakers prefer to use for this style, which requires freshness rather than bolstering tannin. If not all are completely dry, the achieved balance better integrates any residual sugar, giving the impression of dryness.
Few rosés see oak, though it can be successfully employed. I remember being very impressed by and enjoying the maiden Solms-Delta Lekkerwijn, an 04 made from mourvèdre, grenache noir and viognier, which was both fermented and aged in older French oak. It made a telling statement for serious rosé.
Somewhat sadly, to my mind, the latest Solms-Delta Rosé 2014 (Lekkerwijn has now been moved to the back label) is unwooded. I should hastily add, it remains a delightful individual, now a blend of mainly grenache noir with a splash of cinsaut. It retails for R54.99.
It was one of three dry rosés Tim James and I tasted recently, collectively drawing my attention to the stylistic improvements mentioned above.
Judging by this and the Thelema Sutherland Grenache Rosé, the variety really does suit the style. The Solms-Delta version has more of a robust spicy character, well-matched by its firm structure and freshness. No doubt a night on the skins and six months on the lees helped impart and develop both the flavour and firmness. Even with a moderate 12.5% alcohol, it is not so much an aperitif wine as one that will provide more satisfaction with a plate of charchuterie or tuna.
The Thelema wine, also a 2014, is 100% grenache from eight-year-old vines grown on their Sutherland property in Elgin. As one might expect from that cooler area, the spicy, cinnamon aromatics are pure and fragrant; but do not be lulled into thinking this is a delicate wine. Elgin can also produce alcohol; 14.2% in this case. It does show a little heat at the end, but there’s plenty of juicy, flavourful and well-sustained fruit to enjoy as well. Gyles Webb and Rudi Schultz suggest it’s ‘the perfect wine to sip while watching the sun set’. To cut that heat in the tail, I’d be inclined to have a pot of smoked trout or salmon pâté on the go as well.
So to the Fat Bastard Pinot Noir Rosé 2014, made at Robertson Cellar and what an attractive wine it is. More coppery pink than the brilliant ruby grenache wines, but that’s often the case with pinot. It’s so fragrant, like a cherry orchard in spring; pure flavours continue in the same vein; it’s even got a pinot-like suppleness. R80 is on the high side, but it’s worth giving it a try for the sheer enjoyment.
A word of advice to Robertson pinot producers; play to your strengths – bubbles and, it appears from this wine, rosé. You will be taken much more seriously than with red pinots that don’t hit the mark. (I await to pass judgement on the new Fist of Fancy from McGregor fruit.)
Another word on my latest hobbyhorse, packaging. It’s so important for any wine, but especially so for rosé. Fat Bastard wins hands down with its pinky-beige capsule and hippo on the label, an attractive match to the wine colour (visible thanks to the clear flint bottle, used for all three wines). The silver capsule with black and white photo of the Sutherland vineyards is also complementary to the wine and, whilst I like the design of the new Solms-Delta label, the baby pink theme does the wine no favours.