The pinot pleasure principle

A confession, with the taste of three lovely wines still lingering on my tongue and no doubt fuzzing my mind. It’s something that notoriously happens to men of a certain age who have been faithful to cabernet sauvignon for more years than they care to remember. I think I’m falling in love with pinot noir.

Could it be mere lust? Will infatuation prove to be the real thing? Plenty of experimentation seems called for to help settle the question. It does help that (although it is also part of the problem!) Cape pinot has improved greatly in terms of quantity and quality in recent years, though it it still comparatively rare and expensive.

The three lovely wines I mentioned were, of course, broached and approached in studious rather than lustful or gluttonous mode. The second was needed as a comparison to help me understand the first; the third put those first two in context – it could have gone on for much longer if I’d allowed love to interfering with science.

First victim of my corkscrew was Muratie’s newly re-labelled Pinot Noir, now named for George Paul Canitz, a German-born artist who bought and replanted the derelict Stellenbosch farm in the latter 1920s. Canitz was a friend of the eminent viticulturist Abraham Perold (the creator of pinotage), who advised the planting of pinot noir. Muratie’s were not the first local vineyards of this great Burgundian variety (Alto had tried and abandoned it by then), but for many years it was the Cape’s only bottling. Canitz boasted: “Muratie Burgundy is bottled sunshine, it gladdens the heart and loosens the tongue!”

As does the delicious 2009, with some pure, light fruit only a little obscured by oak, and the charm that one wants from pinot. The tannins are gently forceful and it’s altogether a fresh delightful wine and worth its price of around R140. The only drawback is the high alcohol  (14.5% given on the label) which is a touch unbalanced and gives a burny finish.

Stellenbosch is not recognised as the best Cape region for pinot noir (although Meerlust’s version is now first-rate, for example). So to cooler, well-regarded Elgin I went for a comparison. Though it was unfair to head straight for the top – the elite version from Paul Cluver. Their standard Pinot is no mean achievement, but the Seven Flags is invariably finer (and costs nearly R400). Both versions seem to be improving by the vintage.

The 2007 Seven Flags is very good, with more flavour intensity and complexity (earthy, mushroom notes, for example) than the admittedly younger Muratie, and beautifully balanced in terms of fruit, acidity and subtle tannin, with less oak and alcohol. Worth the extra money? Well, yes, if you can afford it – it is undoubtedly a grander and more magical wine.

Magic? I found a little more of that – with more perfume and elegance but though less intensity of flavour – in the third wine I opened in my quest for perspective. This was a Burgundy: a modest village wine in a modest vintage from a great producer: Méo-Camuzet Fixin 2007 (briefly available here, at rather less than the Cluver).

Burgundy will always be hard to match, as the ardent local makers of pinot know better than anyone. But a local affair of the heart is eminently possible.


Originally published in the Mail & Guardian, 18-24 February 2009

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