South African winemakers have been in a bit of a quandary regarding Pinotage in the last few decades but now seem more assured with what to do with this grape variety as it is increasingly being used as a blending component to lend backbone, structure and a bit of New World exotic elegance to wine from the classic and better known varietals.
More often than not it’s blended in minority with Cabernet Sauvignon and sometimes even three or four ways with other varietals such as Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Good single varietal Pinotages are hard to come by – Kanonkop and Beyerskloof are two that spring to mind – and although the variety is still popular in the Cape, attracting a lot of investment, its strength is now seen primarily as a blending agent by many winemakers. Consequently it is being grown in relatively smaller quantities and is often the first varietal that suffers when diversification takes place in a vineyard.
Stellenzicht’s history dates back to the late 1600’s but it was only as recently as 1981 that the farm gained its current name. Situated in the heart of what is known as the Golden Triangle, Stellenzicht literally means “view of Stellen(bosch)” and alludes to its proximety to this most famous of South African wine towns.
The topography here is unique and very well-suited to the growing of grapes – the ocean is only 8km away and so cooling sea breezes are frequent, especially in the hot summer months but the variety of soils and wide range in altitude of the vineyards (100 – 400m above sea level) give the winemaker lots to play with. When the farm was bought by its current owners in the early 1980s an extensive replanting programme was undertaken and varieties were matched to the locations where the conditions were suitable and where they would perform the best. Combined with massive investment in the cellar, Stellenzicht’s wines are made to be of the highest quality and it now boasts of a reputation as one of South Africa’s premier wine estates. It’s also credited with pioneering the Shiraz/Syrah revolution in the country and the 1997,’98 and ’99 vintages all won gold at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London.
This wine is actually a very unusual blend of Syrah and Pinotage in equal parts. The sign of any good blend is a wine that is greater than the sum of its individual parts and this is certainly true of this blend – there is no power struggle in the wine for dominance between two varieties that have their own unique and strong characteristics. The grapes are sourced from a range of vineyards on slopes facing west and north-west where the vines are between 11 and 17 years old and are at an altitude of between 150 and 300m. Harvested by hand, the two varieties are vinified separately and undergo fermentation in stainless steel tanks at 29 degrees celsius. Maturation takes place in a combination of French, American and Hungarian oak barrels of 300l each for 16 months before bottling.
Intense ruby-red and sparkly on the eye, this wine has a rich and complex bouquet of smoky, toasted coffee beans, dark chocolate and spicy strawberry glazed fruit. On the palate the wine is very full-bodied and opulent and is perfectly balanced between ripe red fruit and black pepper with a lick of vanilla. The alcohol content (15%) gives it plenty of backbone and structure and it will improve with age in the bottle for 5-8 years. It is quite a versatile wine but will overpower anything with too subtle a flavour – roasted game and red meat dishes and hard, mature cheeses being the best matches.
Made from two of my favourite varietals and a novelty blend that works, I give it 90 out of 100.
Available at time of writing from Corkers Wine for £ 9.49 per bottle, although it looks like they’ve sold out now.