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Forget Pinotage, Drink Cinsaut

A problem facing many wine-producing countries is the lack of depth to their portfolio. Argentina and New Zealand are the most easily quotable examples with their wine industries heavily reliant on the continued popularity of Malbec and Sauvignon Blanc that account for approximately 33% and 72% of their total production respectively.

South Africa is less singularly in thrall to one specific variety with Chenin Blanc accounting for just 18% of total plantings and this leaves plenty of room for another cultivar to stake a claim as the quintessential vinous expression of South Africa. Some (I’m afraid the deluded amongst you) will say that South Africa already has this in the form of Pinotage but for every excellent example from the likes of David & Nadia Sadie’s Paardebosch label, Bellingham’s Bernard Series or Meerendal’s Heritage Block; there are tens of others that will do nothing except cause consternation to the majority of consumer’s palates world wide. A far more profitable exercise is for South Africa to continue to focus on the expansion of varieties that are evidently well suited to this country’s principally Mediterranean climate. In the coolest areas, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Chardonnay and Sauvignon can thrive but this ability to perform well is not unique to South Africa ensuring stiff competition for those wines as they enter the export market. Arguably more interesting are varieties like Grenache and particularly the unheralded Cinsaut.

Wines of South Africa (WOSA) state on their website that Cinsaut used to be the most widely planted red variety (a supremacy usurped by Cabernet Sauvignon as recently as 1993) but it has been slowly ‘replaced by more noble varieties.’ This is a great shame as I was not moved by a single example of the ‘noble’ Cabernet Sauvignon when visiting in September but was genuinely enlivened by the quality of some of the Cinsaut. The likes of Natte Valleij and Donovan Rall are crafting wines of real juiciness and red-fruit perfume. These traits provide Cinsaut with a calling card that is difficult to resist yet it has enough tannin, especially when fermented with some of the stalks, to produce wine that is far from prosaic. But the real beauty is that this émigré from southern France, like Malbec, is not really appreciated on its home turf, certainly not as a named variety, leaving the door ajar for this bridesmaid of the grape world to establish itself as a worthy contender for the title of South Africa’s signature red.

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The Continued Delights of Chenin Blanc

It was in a previous post (Something for the Weekend 5, October 3rd) that I spoke of the under-appreciated joys of Chenin Blanc. That was in relation to the Loire, Chenin’s place of birth but it also has a second home (doesn’t everyone?) in South Africa. Here it has a mixed reputation with some producers all too happy to pull it out and convert to ‘easier’ sells such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon (boring) Blanc. Yet in more recent times, some seem set on securing Chenin’s status as South Africa’s signature white variety, a very sensible move in a world already soaked with the aforementioned varieties. Producers to look out for include Alheit, Beaumont, Ken Forrester, Raat’s, the Sadie Family and Mullineux to name but a few. Fortunately I was in town this week to taste Bellingham’s best as they enter the fray here in Taipei. Their wines, particularly the Old Vine Chenin reviewed below had the requisite ‘drive’ to be admired and when coupled with the aromas of custard apple…well that’s a winning formula as far as I’m concerned.

If your idea of fun is to dress your beloved in a gimp mask and ask them to eat a banana whilst you restore their toes to their pre-painted state, then Pinotage is the grape for you. No variety is so negatively associated with the smells of rubber, banana and acetone as South Africa’s indigenous gift to the world. Yet good Pinotage does exist and although, as of yet, it is still not quite on my list of go to grapes, examples as engaging as Bellingham’s below are more than worthy of your attention and promise a much less malodorous future.

Bellingham, Ancient Earth, Chenin Blanc, Coastal Region, 2013, 13.5%
Grape:
Chenin Blanc
Wine-making: A little oak just to add some custard/ vanilla aroma
Note: Fresh and full with Chenin’s typically appley character dominating. A little creamy on the palate but it has the requisite acidity to prevent any blowsiness. Good value Chenin!
Price: 700NT
Score: 15.5/20
Available from: Finesse

Bellingham, Bernard Series, Old Vine Chenin Blanc, Coastal Region, 2013, 14%
Grape:
Chenin Blanc
Wine-making: 12 months in 50% new French oak
Note: Smells very enticing with bruised, spiced apple, custard and little stone-fruit. Creamy, mouth-filling palate but in no way heavy with a good line of acidity holding things together. Will be even better in another 18 months when the oak is more fully integrated.
Price: 1,250NT
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: Finesse

Bellingham, Bernard Series, Pinotage, Stellenbosch, 2013, 14%
Grape:
Pinotage
Wine-making: 50% new French Oak for 12 months
Note: Smoky with an industrial twang (that is not pejorative, I often find Syrah with this same industrial/machine oil/earthy/mineral thing). Plenty of black fruit both fresh and baked/scorched alongside some dried flowers. Supple tannins but with enough grip to keep you interested and with a subtle dose of vanilla and spice from the oak. Very enjoyable and one for Syrah lovers to try.
Price: 1,950NT
Score: 17/20
Available from: Finesse

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