Tasting pinotage from around the world – in Canada

Jon Whitteker is the Cellar Master for the South African Wine Society in Toronto in Canada. He rightly thought I’d be interested in a tasting his club was putting together of pinotages from six countries (USA, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. I asked him to let me know how it went, and he’s done so. As I’m sure others will also be interested, I’m reproducing Jon’s notes here, prefaced by his background explanation.


pinotageThe idea probably germinated out of a conversation with Peter May during his visit to Canada to speak at one of our tasting events. I am not sure of the exact date but it was probably within the 2004 to 2007 timeframe. At the time we were surprised to learn that Pinotage was grown in several countries other than South Africa, including Canada.

After some casual discussion within our club executive we decided to do some research into where Pinotage wine was being made. During that time I became aware that Peter was writing a book on Pinotage (Pinotage – Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine) and had done extensive research into where Pinotage was being grown. In early 2009 I contacted Peter to discuss the proposed tasting concept and share what I had found through my initial research. Peter was very supportive and augmented my information with some additional insights and target search candidates.

By 2011 I had identified enough countries and wineries to validate that the tasting concept was feasible. I then spent the next two years selecting the wines, convincing the wineries to sell me the wine, getting details on pricing, and investigating options for bringing the wine into Ontario, Canada. Many of the wineries only made limited quantities of Pinotage each year and these always sold out. In several instances I had to reserve a case over one year in advance. By 2013 all the wines were selected, purchase orders issued as wine became available, and wine started to be shipped to Canada. Due to the repressive costs associated with privately importing wine into Ontario, we needed to come up with some creative strategies to get our wine delivered without incurring oppressive costs. In most cases we succeeded. All wine was committed by the end of 2014 but the last wine did not arrive until a month before the tasting.

In the end, we had 12 wines from six countries, including three US states. As an added bonus, Peter May arranged a visit to Canada to coincide with our tasting and spoke at our event. His insight plus personal experiences with many of the winemakers, made this a special event. The quality of the wines was a very pleasant surprise to all who attended. Peter also contributed a 13th Pinotage wine that he had obtained during a prior visit to a winery in California.


glass-redPinotage from around the world (26 August, 2014)

Wine was served in 1.25oz pours in ISO glasses. Wine was opened and poured 1 to 1.5 hours before tasting. Wine was re-tasted up to 2 hours after the initial tasting. Food was served halfway through the tasting and again after the last wine was initially tasted

Topper’s Mountain 2010 wild ferment – Australia / New England NSW (non grafted vines, 7 years)
good initial impression, excellent fruit flavours, med. depth & length, plum & red fruit / held up well over 1-2 hours / very good on its own and with food.

Melrose Vineyards 2009 – USA / Oregon (planted 2005)
lighter style, short finish, easy drinking but lacking interest.

Barkan Reserve 2010 – Israel / Judean Hills (8 year vines / started planting in 1995)
good darker fruit flavours / medium finish / different, non typical flavour profile / pleasant but not compelling.

Lake Breeze Seven Poplars 2010 – Canada / British Columbia (14 years)
forward, open bouquet / excellent black fruit / impressive with a solid backbone, very good depth and length / a serious wine that will improve with age / goes very well with food.

Stoneboat 2010 – Canada / British Columbia (12 years)
similar in structure to the Lake Breeze but not the same weight / very good fruit, good length / very good with food.

Lovingston 2011 – USA / Virginia (vineyard planted in 2008)
good open nose, very good fruit, different flavour profile but very drinkable

Fort Ross 2007 – USA / California (root stock imported in 1995)
good nose, excellent fruit, very good length and balance / sweeter initial impression which moderated over time / developed more flavour complexity as time progressed / silky tannins in the finish.

J Vineyards Estate RRV 2010 – USA / California (vines from 1994 and 2001)
very good fruit / more Pinot Noir like initially on the palate / very good length / sweeter initial impression which moderated over time / developed more flavour complexity as time progressed / silky tannins in the finish.

Loma Prieta Winery 2012 – Estate Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mtns (California) … (Second vintage)
good fruit, sweeter entry, medium-light length, smooth, very pleasant / sweeter initial impression which moderated over time / developed more flavour complexity as time progressed / silky tannins in the finish.

 Soljans 2011 – New Zealand / Gisborne
lighter appearance but abundant strawberry fruit / good length and finish, very drinkable

Muddy Water 2011 – New Zealand / Waipara (non grafted vines, 18 years)
excellent, dark fruit, has good balance and length / has depth & complexity to develop further with time / soft but noticeable tannins enhanced the overall impression.

Black Elephant The Back Road 2012 – South Africa / Wellington (old vine, single vineyard)
dark, rich fruit / excellent depth and length / lots of potential for the long haul / pronounced but pleasant tannins indicate it will age very well and further develop / very impressive.

Swartland Bush Vine 2010 – South Africa / Swartland (bush vine blocks, 15 – 37 years)
good fruit, medium length, pleasant, not overly complex, enjoyable but not compelling..

4 thoughts on “Tasting pinotage from around the world – in Canada

  1. With some digging, I found the edition of Grape which featured our own international pinotage tasting (#8 March-April 2001). Apart from local wines, we tasted wines from Napa – 2 examples, Zimbabwe, Gisborne (Soljans 1998) and Hawkes Bay in New Zealand and Brazil.
    I wrote in the accompanying article that pinotage had been sighted in Virginia, so it’s good to see the wine has come to fruition.
    Such tastings are difficult to put in place, so congratulations to Jon for his efforts.

  2. Hi Angela

    As I recall, it was a NZ Pinotage (Babich Winemakers Reserve) thatreceived top score at that tasting to the surprise of all.

    Unfortunately that vineyard is no more – lack of demand for NZ Pinotage – but Muddy Water in NZ make a stonkingly good one which sells at a premium

  3. Id quite forgotten, Angela, that Grape had done what was surely the first ever substantial international tasting of pinotage. Thanks for reminding me. Yesterday I went to the Sommeliers Association pinotage tastiung, presented by the great Abrie Breeslaar of Kanonkop, and will report on that shortly.

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