2020 is a year most of us would like to forget. However, one good thing to emerge from the past year, was the launch of a new inaugural wine competition focusing purely on one of my favourite varieties; Pinot Noir.
In September 2020, Mosaic Top 5 Pinot Noir Wine Awards released its results. The 109 wines submitted, were tasted blind by a panel of five members made up of Cape Wine Masters, experienced sommeliers, Masters of Wine and qualified winemakers only. This prestigious panel was chaired by the wonderful Dr Winifred Bowman, Cape Wine Master and renowned international wine judge.
“There are very few wine lovers who do not succumb to the lure and charm of Pinot Noir, to be forever under its spell. Once hooked, there is no turning back!”
Dr Winifred Bowman, Chairman of the judging panel
Through the 1980s, the Pinot Noir clone which reigned in South Africa was the BK5, developed in Switzerland and intended for sparkling wine. Therefore, it was almost impossible to achieve greatness in still wine, and on the contrary, made rather bland examples from this usually incredible variety. It was only in the 1990s that superior Dijon clones appeared. Hence we are still finding our way with Pinot Noir and adapting it to our terroir. We’ve hit a few potholes but have come to a turning point where South African Pinot Noirs are now being recognised as some of the best in the new world.
Tasting through The Mosaic Top 5 Pinot Noirs, the above is evident. Vines have been attentively planted in sites suitable for this fickle grape. A more graceful and gentle approach in the cellar and a discerning use of oak is apparent, and the results are captivating.
After 2020, I’d rather think of years in terms of vintages, rather than focusing on pandemics and catastrophic political occurrences. Tasting wine takes you to on a journey; wine should show a sense of place and allow you to travel back in time. Tasting through the Mosaic Top 5 Pinot Noirs we stopped off in the predominately wildly hot and extremely dry 2016, then onto another drought year of 2017. However, with no major heatwaves and cooler nighttime temperatures, the wines are graceful yet expressive and complex. 2018 next, a challenging year with the drought still in full play; yields were down, but wines showed great concentration. Last but not least, we tasted two wines from 2019; both from the Walker Bay district. 2019 delivered the exact conditions that have made the region famous for its Pinot Noir; warm days and cool nights, all moderated by the maritime influence of the ocean.
This Pinot Noir emulates the simultaneous elegance and power that resonates with all world-class Pinot Noirs. On the nose luscious dark berry fruits and pomegranate with hints of orange peel. The berry fruits follow through on the palate with notes of smoked paprika, sweet Asian spice & olive tapenade adding intrigue and complexity—sophisticated texture, fine tannins and relatively full-bodied for said variety.
Bright red fruits, ripe black plum and a hint of dried blackcurrant leaf embrace you on aroma. A plush palate of crunchy cranberries, freshly picked black cherries and spiced berries marry in a full, and ripe mouthfeel. Chalky tannins and juicy acidity with some intricate savoury charcuterie elements add a compelling depth into this otherwise fruit-forward Pinot.
The oldest in the line up from an incredibly hot vintage, even in the cooler Hemel en Aarde valley. In defiance it is still showing exceptionally well, with enjoyable years still ahead of it. A more rustic and savoury rendition of Pinot Noir, it displays more developed red fruit, rhubarb and sun-dried tomatoes. On the palate spectacularly nuanced notes of tobacco leaf and Forrest floor are elevated by a mineral core, potpourri and dusty tannins and a beguiling texture.
Even though tasting blind, I knew this wine at first whiff; its been a long-standing favourite of mine since I came across it a couple of years ago. It captivates with a bewitching floral perfume. It’s bright, it’s clean and its oh so pure. Layers of appetising fresh fruit; cranberries, cassis, red cherries, raspberries build. Stalky, black tea notes follow and ground the fruit. Supple tannins dance with luminous acidity. It’s a wonderfully harmonious and focussed wine that you can’t help but be seduced by.
This wine fascinated me and was the standout of the flight. It had the brilliant red fruit that the other Pinots displayed, but an additional baking spice element animated this wine. Slight savoury notes contradicted a modest cotton candy detail wonderfully. Polished tannins, restraint and a great power and depth is delivered with superb equilibrium and intensity. Certainly a world-class Pinot Noir which like many incredible wines is rarer than hens teeth – I have been hunting some down since tasting and have yet to find a bottle!
Our expressions of Pinot Noir may vary, but we are now competing with some of the most accomplished, not just in the new world, but globally. Pinot Noirs from our coolest wine growing areas; Hemel en Aarde and Elgin, are at the forefront of this acclaim. They are able to display the necessary traits which Burgundies are renowned for, and setting benchmarks internationally. This competition attests to this, and gauges our capability to compete on an international scale.