Multitudinous pinot pleasures

I’ve spent a few happy and occasionally confused days with half a dozen pinot noirs from two of the finest local producers of the grape – with utterly different approaches. Not non-stop time devoted to them, I must hastily add, but I have come back to the wines over three days to see how (and if) they’re developing. It’s part of the Platter tasting process which is now well under way. (Whether or not this is a more useful method for everyone than spending a minute or two on the wines, blind, in a line-up of 100 I don’t know, but it is for me.)

The two producers are Crystallum and Winery of Good Hope. Crystallum is the winery of Petter-Allan and Andrew Finlayson (sons of the the as yet more famous Peter) in the Hemel-en-Aarde area. They make two pinots: Peter Max and the bizarrely named Cuvée Cinéma.

Winery of Good Hope is a rather diffuse collection of labels which are better known than the overall brand, which is probably why its image is less than it should be; the top label is Radford Dale, which now has two pinots, and there are two others in respectively the Land of Hope and Winery of Good Hope ranges. Meaning that this producer has more pinots than any other in South Africa – which is presumably just what its founder and continuing inspiration, Alex Dale, likes, as he’s a Burgundy fan of extreme proportions (a Brit, he lived and worked there for some time; the Radford Dale Chardonnay is another magnificent story).

Well, the wines. I’ll limit comments here to just the top-end ones. First, a prefaratory statement that I recently sampled some grand red burgundies from the great (everyone seems to agree) vintage of 2009. I found them very difficult indeed – could discern the stupendous structure, elegance, concentration, etc, but they were not very enjoyable in what is clearly still their extreme youth.

By great contrast, the Cuvée Cinéma is utterly lovely, though it’s a 2011 I was tasting. Delicious, perfumed, sexy, packed tight with all the stuff that elicits the clichés about the sensual appeal of pinot noir. Closer, I’d say, to the pure-fruited New Zealand style than the Burgundy style – to choose between what are probably the most respected pinot alternatives at present. Also, it accords well with some of the other pinots from Hemel-en-Aarde (like the Newton Johnson Family Reserve), which seem to often be more graceful and immediately charming than the perhaps more “structured” pinots from Elgin – or from Stellenbosch, or the Chamonix from Franschhoek. But why I think it more of a style thing than a terroir thing is that the Crystallum Peter Max 2011, which blends Hemel-en-Aarde fruit with grapes from Elgin and Botrivier is not dissimilar in character to the Cinéma.

The two Radford Dale pinots (Freedom 2011 and a new one provisionally called AD) are totally different in character, though also of high quality. Much more structure obvious on them – especially in terms of tannin; the acidity is excellent on both them and the Crystallum, as is vital for good pinot. Also with great varietal character – perhaps more cherry fruit than strawberry and raspberry, however. Fragrant and dark-red-fruited, but less breathtakingly lovely in their innocent youth than the Crystallums.

Interestingly, it was the Radford Dale wines which changed most over the three days, and benefited from the exposure to oxygen. I found the tannin became less obvious, and the acidity revealed itself more and more as a fine structuring element. The Crystallums persisted admirably, but I wasn’t aware of much development

I’m left very satisfied with all the wines – but wishing so much that I could taste them as they’ll be in five years time. I can’t easily imagine the Cuvée Cinéma then – and it is so attractive now that I wonder how much will be left! I may be wrong, and I’m usually a great advocate for maturing serious wines, but I don’t thing it would be a sin to drink this wine young. Whereas, I’m sure the Radford Dales – less winning in their youth – are going to grow more complex and structurally harmonious.

But how good that not only are we now producing more decent pinot noirs (fulfilling the promise that Hamilton Russell has long been making about possibilities) – but we are also fully entering the great pinot adventure and unleashing a whole multitude of vinous experience.

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