Pinotage Hits a Purple Patch in Paarl
PINOTAGE & BILTONG FESTIVAL
Sunday 15 April 2018
The weekend weather was kind to the 2-day Pinotage & Biltong Festival (R230 on the door). Last year’s event, held at L’Avenir in Stellenbosch, was special for me as it was my first one and also my first single cultivar wine festival. The 2018 festival was moved to Perdeberg Winery to the North-East of Paarl. Just an hour from Cape Town, the new location especially suited those from Paarl, Wellington, Durbanville and the Northern Suburbs. Many came from further afield as I spoke with fellow wine enthusiasts from Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Somerset West, as well as from Germany.
Perdeberg made an excellent venue and well able to cope with the increased number of guests. Festival promoter Cobie van Oort from CVO Marketing told me that 900 people attended on Saturday which was close to capacity, with almost all tickets sold out. There were fewer on the Sunday, when I attended, but the event was buzzing and with a great vibe. Parking was nearby and plentiful – complete with all the aromas of Perdeberg Winery to tempt – and the bigger venue meant that the producer stalls were better spaced out. It was good to see ample shaded seating too.
Entry included a Festival wine glass, biltong cup and Tasting Card. The Tasting Card had a map on the back that was numbered to show the stand position for each wine farm. This was a neat improvement from last year and was helpful if one wanted to go to, or meet friends, at a specific stand. Like most festival-goers, I suspect, I followed the numbered route in sequence.
Some 18 vineyards showcased their wines. This was 2 fewer than at last year’s Festival but it didn’t show. It was good to see many new wine farms. Nearly half did not attend in 2017 so there was a large turnover of participants. This kept the Festival fresh and not simply a repeat of the previous edition. Boland, Bonnievale, Delheim, Grande Provence, Rhebokskloof, Stellenbosch Hills, Van Loveren and Whalehaven were new. These took the place of Altydgedacht, Anura, Doolhof, Kaapzicht, L’Avenir, Liepzig, Paradyskloof, Spencer Bay, Stellenbosch Vineyards and Windmeul.
Purple and white were the Festival colours. It was good to see so many people entering into the spirit of the event, many more than I recall from last year. I saw people of all ages from very young children to their grandparents. They were well catered for, whether Jungle Gym for the youngest, Jenga block game for all ages, the inexhaustible live Band that played 70s and 80s classics, ice cream stall and food trucks. There was a small art sale above the Tasting Room that had additional cooler seating.
I sampled each of the wines on the Tasting Card. Many wine farms brought a greater sample of their wines but I chose to limit myself to the recommended wines. Bottles were available for purchase, many at show prices. I bought 2 Magnums of the Delheim Rosé that was my favourite wine of the Festival and awesome value at just R100 per Magnum.
Wines were priced at the entry to medium level, ranging from R40 to R100, except for the Mellasat White Pinotage that was R145. The Festival, like any that focuses on a single cultivar, was a great excuse to showcase the many styles and different characters of the Pinotage grape. These ranged from fizzy, low alcohol (6% to 8%) perlé to white to rosé to single variety red to Cape blend and Rhone-style blend to dessert wine.
The biltong pairing was not something that I focused on. Indeed, I confess I am not a great fan of the wine and food pairings offered with increasing frequency at many wine tastings. Savoury biltong at least offers a better alternative than the sweet pairings – chocolate, macaroon, jam etc – foods that wine is notoriously difficult to pair with. The new Bresaola ‘biltong’ from Afrifoods was delicious and especially popular.
Some pairings worked but others did not for me. I liked the kudu biltong and single cultivar Pinotage from Knorhoek and Somerset West-based super garagiste Flagstone, and also the droëwors pairing with the meaty Perdeberg and Beyerskloof Pinotage. I was less sure that fatty chilli biltong fared well with light sparkly Balance Sweet Temptation or the Pino Frizzante from Wellington Wines. I would have sought out a heavier, smoky, spicy Pinotage to pair with. Nonetheless, the biltong offered a different dimension to the Festival that I am sure brought different people to it. It was good to taste such a broad range of types together too.
As for the wines, my thoughts mirror those of last year even with the many new producers attending. The red wines were mostly of 2017 vintage, with the remainder of 2015/6 vintage. One wine, and I didn’t note which one, had even been bottled the previous day. Many of the wines were understandably closed and undeveloped, full of rough tannins and unbalanced on the palate. Granted this was not a specialist or tutored tasting for the connoisseur but nonetheless symptomises the challenge that largely remains for South Africa to portray Pinotage as a cultivar worthy of serious wines and attention. Cobie would no doubt tell me that aim of the Festival is not showcase the fine Pinotage – and she would be right to say so.
It made sense that the first wine was the white Pinotage from Mellasat. I bought a bottle last year as it makes for an interesting addition to a blind tasting. Grape juice is naturally white (save for very few cultivars) and so the free-run juice has no colour. The wine was refreshing but did little for me beyond the novelty value (as with the white Zinfandel at Blaauwklippen Vineyards). I would have been pushed at blind tasting to pick out a Pinotage and I am sure I would not be alone in that. The wine also attracts premium pricing.
I had tasted the Delheim Rosé before and liked blush pink colour, intense ripe strawberry flavours and the clean mouth feel. I learned that the Magnums are made for the German market. The well chilled Rosé from Lanzerac, another excellent wine estate, showed a more salmon pink colour from just 2 hours of skin contact. It too showed great intensity of strawberry flavour on the palate. The Whalehaven Rosé was deeper still in salmon colour and showed a lively, bright acidity.
Chocolate and coffee Pinotage remains ever popular even if I sometimes struggle to pick out the flavour. This wasn’t the case with the Angels Tears from Grande Provence in Franschhoek. The robust, ripe wine showed its weight after tasting the lighter white and Rosé wines to start. The dark chocolate flavours were almost coffee-like and more defined than those in the Java Pinotage from Van Loveren of Four Cousins fame.
Many stalls were well decorated and the Bonnievale one caught my eye. The lady there told me she had been to tasting events ‘for 30 years and so should get it right’! The wine was typical of many of the R50 per bottle market sector. Ripe plum fruit flavours on the nose gave way to a tannic palate with a lean finish, aided by heavily toasted, coffee-flavoured American oak chips added to stainless steel tanks. There were coffee flavours too in the Mocha Pinotage from Simonsvlei that were easier to detect on the palate than the nose.
Knorhoek and Flagstone offered better wines. The full-bodied Pinotage from Knoerhoek was a deep, deep ruby in colour with a good intensity of ripe plum, cherry and spicy mulberry aromas. The Flagstone wine, made from grapes bought in from Breedekloof, showed a good intensity and balance between fruits and spices on the nose.
To contrast, the Perdeberg Pinotage was made in a vibrant, lighter style and was medium in body. It belied the 14% alcohol content. Mention Pinotage to a Stellies or UCT student and they will most likely mention Beyerskloof. This was a good middle wine, predictable and with juicy plum flavours, and decent value at R60.
There were 3 Cape Blends though not all the classic Bordeaux Blend containing Pinotage. Closest was the Stellenbosch Hills wine (30% Merlot) that was the lowest priced wine of the Festival (R40). I much preferred the interesting Rhone-style blend from Boland Cellar in which Pinotage (42%) replaced Mourvèdre. It showed good complexity and balance and the lighter style worked well for me.
The Flat Rock Red from nearby Rhebokskloof in Paarl cheekily contained only 10% Pinotage amid a blend of 6 cultivars. I liked the classic, gold ‘R’ monogrammed label. The medium-bodied wine showed fruity aromas of plum and dark cherry that gave way to tannins on the palate.
The Sweet Temptation perlé from Balance in Worcester and the Frizzante from Wellington Wines offered light relief from the succession of red wines along the tasting route. Fizzy on pouring with bubbles fast disappearing in the glass, these attractive pink wines showed a moussante feel on the palate. The Balance wine was sweeter and more candyfloss in flavour than the Moscato Frizzante, which showed ripe strawberry flavours but little else.
As in 2017, I ended the Festival with a dessert wine, the Jerepigo from Badsberg. I liked the sweet maraschino cherry and redcurrant flavours but was surprised that the alcohol content of this spirit-fortified wine was not higher than the 16% shown on the label.
Before leaving I ventured upstairs to the gallery to see the art and crafts for sale. I had a delicious ice cream too – 2 scoops of creamy strawberry and maraschino cherry for R55 – that was really tasty.
It was great to return to the Pinotage & Biltong Festival and to see its obvious success. Bigger and better than last year, the Perdeberg venue was ideal for the greater number attending. I would almost suggest that if numbers grow further that producers are given a stand each (rather than share with another) to allow extra space for guests awaiting their tasting. The wines are not as high quality as at the more specialist Cabernet Franc Carnival held in late May, another single cultivar event, but that is to be expected. My sole suggestion for the future is to offer a better Food Court. The 3 food trucks offered limited fare and it was only after that I noticed from the map on the back of the Tasting Card that there were cheese platters for sale in the Tasting Room. Toilets (women’s in the Tasting Room and mixed portaloos by the food trucks) could have been better signposted.
Nonetheless, this Festival gets all the basics right – plenty of affordable wines in different styles, spacious layout and good parking, relatively central location, ample shaded seating, live band, and activities for all ages. I noticed that there were spittoons at each stand and sufficient water for rinsing glasses and drinking. This is another improvement on last year. I congratulate Cobie and her team, and all the participating vineyards, for a memorable day out. If you didn’t attend the Pinotage & Biltong Festival this year, then make a point of going in 2019 …
Wines tasted (bought *):
NV Balance Sweet Temptation – R70
NV Wellington Blush Pino Frizzante – R45
2017 Mellasat White Pinotage – R145
2017 Lanzerac Premium Pinotage Rosé – R75
2018 Delheim Pinotage Rosé – R70 (R100 for a Magnum)* FAVOURITE WINE
2015 Whalehaven Old Harbour Rosé – R69
2017 Grande Provence Angels Tears Le Chocholat Pinotage – R70
2017 Van Loveren African Java Pinotage – R60
2017 Bonnievale Pinotage – R50
2016 Simonsvlei Ja Mocha Pinotage – R70
2015 Knorhoek Pinotage – R95
2016 Flagstone Truth Tree Pinotage – R98
2015 Perdeberg VC Pinotage – R50
2017 Beyerskloof Pinotage – R60
2016 Boland Pinotage/Shiraz/Grenache (42% Pinotage, 41% Shiraz, 17% Grenache) – R83
2017 Stellenbosch Hills Pinotage/Merlot (70% Pinotage, 30% Merlot) – R40
2015 Rhebokskloof Flat Rock Red (49% Shiraz, 21% Durif, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Pinotage, 4% Mourvèdre, 1% Viognier) – R75
2016 Badsberg Red Jerepigo – R66