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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES #164 (article first published : 2006-11-29)

Pinot noir (pronounced peeno-nwahr) is the great red wine grape of Burgundy. It produces some of the most famous red wines of France and is also used in making authentic French champagne.

In South Africa it is something of a rarity. It is difficult to grow away from the narrow hillsides of its home in eastern France. It does not like warm weather, and the vines do not bear large quantities of the grape. The wine itself needs careful and lengthy maturation in oak barrels.

Pinot noir accounts for only 0.5 percent of South Africa’s total vineyard area. There are now about 40 such wines made at the Cape and they are expensive. This is a wine for the connoisseur, not for the bargain-hunter.

Joan Seebregts chose pinot noir as the theme for our private wine group’s Christmas tasting, and it was an extravagant occasion. The seven wines presented ranged in price from R108 to R225 a bottle.

The tastes and aromas of pinot noir are variously described as strawberries, cherries, tea leaf, plums, coffee, vegetative, meaty, savoury. These characteristics were all evident in our blind tasting of six wines, plus one “wild card” which turned out to be an excellent pinot from Chile.

I don’t think that many of you are going to rush out and buy these wines, but top place in our scoring was shared by the Paul Cluver Pinot Noir of 2003 and the Vino Punto Alto from Chile, also 2003 vintage. Paul Cluver is a neurosurgeon turned wine farmer, and in the cool climate of Elgin, about 70 kilometres south-east of Cape Town, he has been a pioneer of pinot noir. This one was excellent, with a deep, strong, cherry/plum flavour and a lingering aftertaste. At R117 this is a fairly priced wine, if you are in a spending mood.

Third place in the scoring was occupied by the Galpin Peak Pinot Noir 2003 from the Bouchard Finlayson cellar in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley near Hermanus. Peter Finlayson was another early exponent of pinot production at the Cape, and this is a good example, creamy, black cherries, rather rich and plush. Price: R165.

Next came a wine from the De Wetshof estate in the Robertson area, named, rather romantically, Nature in Concert Pinot Noir 2003. This is described as having a forest floor bouquet, with a touch of raspberry. Very elegant. Price: R120.

The other wines tasted were the Haute Cabriere Pinot Noir 2003 from Achim von Arnim’s Cabriere estate at Franschhoek, price R108; the Meerlust Pinot Noir 2000 from the Meerlust estate at Stellenbosch (R165); and the Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir 2004, from another cellar in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley (R225).

All of these were exceptional wines. Note that the most recent vintage among them was 2004. Pinot noir usually improves with age, and correctly stored these wines will, I think, be even better over the next four or five years. – Michael Green




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