Are we too reverential of pinot noir? It’s easy to think of reasons why this might be. First, Burgundy; how limited are the top wines even in a year when the weather is kind, much less so when those wicked spring frosts do their own wrecking effort. Regardless, the top wines fetch stratospheric prices and many think of Burgundy as beginning and ending in the Côte d’Or. Then, it’s often said that pinot is unforgiving, there’s nothing worse than a poor example.
There are probably other reasons, but with proper pinot so hard to come by and, in many cases, beyond the average winelover’s wallet, it’s no wonder it is placed on a pedestal.
Locally, there’s also a tendency to have a somewhat narrow view with regard to styles but as the number of producers grows, each with his/her own interpretation of pinot, winelovers need to shed their myopsy. From a rough calculation in Platter 2009, I counted +- 48 producers, some making more than one pinot. Compare with 2019, where I gave up counting, but entries in the index take up over a whole column. There will be yet more this year; I see Thelema are upping the stakes in Elgin by releasing their first Sutherland Pinot Noir Reserve, a 2016 selling for R395 ex-cellar. I’ve not tasted it, but this range is becoming more impressive every year, so a wine to take note of.
I have tasted and drunk quite a few pinots of late. From Stellenbosch, a relatively quick sip of the latest Meerlust 2018, which, like its predecessor is more firmly structured than most local pinots. Behind the tannin there’s plenty of dark red fruit, encouraging sign for the benefits of ageing. There’s been a bit of discussion about Stellenbosch and pinot and whether it’s pinot country at all, at least for table wines. Much is successfully channeled into MCCs. While I admit there are some well-made and enjoyable Stellenbosch pinots, I’ve yet to have one with the thrill factor of those from other areas.
Those ‘other areas’ are where the rest of my recent pinot experiences have come from. A pair from Hemel en Aarde: the Kruger Family Wines Pearly Gates 2018 WO Upper Hemel en Aarde and Saurwein OM Pinot Noir 2018 from Hemel en Aarde Ridge. The appeal in both of these is clarity with complexity as well as the natural freshness that’s so much part of pinot and those two higher Hemel en Aarde Wards.
Jessica Saurwein’s OM is a new wine, which she describes as ‘a lighter style’. She was drawn to the area from her student days; her dream now is to own a vineyard there one day. In the meantime, fruit has been purchased from one of the properties on the Ridge and treated as hands-off as possible, ‘To learn about the site.’ Saurwein notes the name, OM ‘symbolises the concept of universal creation and is also synonymous with peace.’ These tie in well with dealing with a three-month-old baby during harvest and finding a sense of peace in the vineyard.
The wine, on the other hand, is full of life within its compact, fine frame, which, with the fruit purity account for that lightness of touch. But lightness doesn’t mean lack of staying power. After five days, this pinot was still singing. The same can be reported about NOM Pinot Noir 2018 from the 700 metres high-lying Kaaimansgat vineyard. Still elegant with tremendous natural freshness, it has greater dark fruit density than its partner. Saurwein explains the name NOM or nombulelo means gratitude in Xhosa, while Nomkhubulwane is a forgotten African goddess of agriculture.
It would be understandable that all three of these pinots might seem slight as well as lighter than the reds most are used to. Understandable, but wrong; there is great depth to them all, which time will reveal.
It’s hardly necessary to point out the many other excellent Hemel en Aarde pinots covering a spectrum of styles from the three Wards.
Our pinots are there to enjoy, so drink and enjoy them, rather than criticise them for what they’re not or put them on a pedestal.