Cape Blends and Pinotage

Posted by Bill Spohn on 21 March 2005 in Wine Tasting

Cape blends – Pinotage or not to Pinotage?

The wine industry in South Africa is absolutely free to make wine from whatever and wherever they want – that may be unique in the world, with all of the AOC, DOC and such regulation.

There is an ongoing discussion about something they call ‘Cape blends’, but rather typically, the South Africans can’t agree on just what a Cape blend is. Half of them insist that it must include Pinotage as a principal component and the other half say they will put in anything they please. These notes are from a seminar aimed at surveying this issue, tasting both sorts of wines.


2001 Plaisir de Merle Cabernet Sauvignon – I have been buying this wine since the first vintage of 1993, so I am a long time fan. It is a wine made with the advice of the ubiquitous M. Pontalier, in this vintage consisting of 85% cab sauv, 5% merlot, 5% malbec and 5% petit verdot, getting 16 months in French oak. Excellent and very Bordeau-like penetrating nose of cassis, cabernet fruit and vanilla, very harmonious on palate, with slightly high acidity which will carry the wine as it ages. Decent amount of tannin, medium soft. The 1993 and 1994 continue to drink well, and I would place this in the same sort of maturation timeframe – 10 – 12 years being a nice plateau.

2001 Winery of Good Hope Radford Dale Merlot – presented by the personable (and amusing) owner, Alex Dale, who admitted that he made this wine because he didn’t know much about merlot and wanted to give it a try. I suspect that the fact that he is, if not totally alone, one of a very few who currently work with this varietal in South Africa may have had something to do with it. Hint of cocoa in the nose, smooth and full in the mouth with lots of power. For someone who doe4sn’t know what he is doing, he has produced a pretty darned good wine!

1999 Meerlust Rubicon – Hannes Myburgh, the owner, mentioned that he thought there might be another wine of this name made by some minor movie personality. This Bordeaux blend was the oldest wine presented to this seminar and it offered a sweet Bordeaux nose, some up front tannins, but the fruit seemed adequate and the wine needs more time. They do not make this reserve wine every year – there will be no 2002, for instance.

2001 Rust en Vrede Estate Wine – Another perennial favourite of mine, this blend is 35% shiraz, 55% cab, and 10% merlot. You had to work a bit to get much nose out of this at this point, but there was excellent depth of fruit in the mouth, and lots of tannin. A big framed wine that requires time. I am currently drinking the 1994, and Oliver Bauer, the marketing director, slipped me some 1991 to taste – very good. They do a particularly labour intensive form of vinification. They have 6 clones of cab, 6 clones of shiraz and 2 of merlot, and they vinify them all separately, blending only when achieving the final product. This sort of micro-vinification seems to pay off for them, judging by the results.

2001 Fairview Primo Pinotage – from Bordeaux blends to pure Pinotage. After giving us a pep talk on their goats and the cheese made from their milk, Chris Davis, export manager indicated that this wine included 14% shiraz. It had a simple fruit nose, and was a sweet forward wine with a bit of tightening at the end, the fruit ultimately not quite bright enough to please me. I am not in any case a big fan of Pinotage.

2002 Villiera Cellar Door Merlot/Pinotage – 800 cases of this made. Red fruit and wood predominate, sweet and smooth on palate, better than the Fairview, but then there is less Pinotage! Cathy Brewer the export manager stated that if they use any more than 30% Pinotage it overwhelms the merlot.

2002 Stellenzicht Rhapsody – a blend of 47% shiraz and 53% pinotage. Tobacco noise. soft tannins, pleasant enough but in no way outstanding. This was the first vintage of this wine.

2002 Beyerskloof Synergy – I liked this quite a bit. 38% pinotage, 34% cab, 28% merlot. Spicy nose, big wine with lots of extract, a touch warm, has time to go, and certainly the best blend of the day.

2001 Graham Beck ‘The William’- 35% pinotage, 65% cab, from Francshoek. Ripe Aussie style nose withplums. Quite firm, but the sweet fruit lurks underneath and will come out in a few more years.

2001 Warwick Estate Three Cape Ladies – 41% cab, 29% merlot, 30% pinotage. Generic Bordeaux nose, sweet up front fruit, good length, switches over to tannin quickly. Pretty tasty, and could use a bit of time.

Leave a Reply