Pinot Noir is the cliche grape. No other variety gets bombarded with more hackneyed descriptions, casually sexist metaphors, and marketing nonsense. Seriously. Is there nothing more we can say about Pinot Noir than it being a feminine, heartbreaking, difficult, expensive, steel-fisted, velvet-gloved, grape? Of course we can. Burgundy. And South African wine people say it over and over and over.
I think I’ve written before about how South African wine people are too damn worried about how our wines taste compared to more famous international examples. We have a huge inferiority complex. Whether this has come from years of burnt rubber accusations, hundred and thousands of litres of shitty bulk wine, or apartheid, I don’t know. But it is there.
Every time we make a cracking wine, there will always be some chump at the table muttering:
“Yes, it’s good, but it’s not quite the Rhone.”
“Mmmm, indeed, a delicious Pinot sure, but falls a little short of proper Burgundy.”
“It doesn’t quite have the class of a good classified Bordeaux.”
Perhaps we are all – winemakers, critics and experts alike – so unsure as to what South African wine actually is that all we have is Europe to compare it to. We are so unsure of our footing that to make any grand statement of quality we either have to qualify it with something European, or wait for a foreign journalist to do it for us.
The one thing I can be sure of is the ridiculous value we get for our best wines. I tasted the new releases from Crystallum last week from Andrew and Peter-Allen Finlayson. Peter Allen had kindly brought along some Pinot Noirs from New Zealand, California, Italy and Burgundy. Those wines were around the 400-500+ randela mark. They are top end wines that sell for top end prices. To me the Crystallum wines showed more class than the other New World examples, and were proudly South African next to the Burgundies. All of this for less than half the price. It’s seriously fucking nuts.
The words of Jorg Pfutzner (vinous raconteur and drinker extraordinaire) rang in my head:
(Paraphrasing) South Africa’s shitty wines are too expensive, and its best wines to cheap.
Buy up now folks. Wines of this quality will not stay at this price forever. Especially as our international reputation for fine wine grows.
Peter-Allen is one of a new-wave of young winemakers who are smart, technically savvy (in the vineyard and cellar) and hell-bent on quality. Peter-Allen and his brother Andrew started Crystallum in 2007. It’s kept them pretty busy as the tasting last week was apparently the launch.
They produce a couple Chardonnay’s and Pinot Noirs all from the Hemel-en-Aarde. The Chardonnay’s are clever; rich without being fat, voluptuous without sweetness. They remind me of the luxury Chardonnay offers. The Pinots have been smart from the start, with a savoury side to them that I’ve always enjoyed.
2012 Agnes Chardonnay – R160
Named after a distant relative who was – according to Peter-Allen so without question a dubious fact – the first lady to have a drivers license in Cape Town
The grapes are from 3 vineyards. One in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, one from the Hemel-en-Aarde ridge and one from Greyton.
I’ve currently been won over by a couple racy Elgin Chardonnays. Their lemon lime zip, with some toasty complexity seduced me. This wine is a whole other story. The nose is very spicy, the palate textured, weighty and silky. There’s citrus, spice, and orange peel, with rich oatmeal on the palate. The acidity is bright rather than zippy. It’s a serious chardonnay that’s delicate, but with force. The elgin Chards I’ve been drinking have been skin-tight and fitted, this one is all rich flowing fabrics, silk and velvet. 17.5
2012 Clay Shales Chardonnay – R210
These grapes come from just over the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge. It’s a slightly weirder, more nerdy wine. Oddly softer and lighter, but nuttier and richer at the same time. Don’t worry I was confused. The wine was more mineral – sucking on a river pebble while being pelted with lemons and almonds. The acidity was subtle. Riper than the Agnes, but more textured. Still tight but with this wonderful combination of oiliness, freshness, and richness. Thoroughly engaging. 18
2012 Peter Max Pinot Noir R140
This is the riper, more fruit forward of the three Pinots. But it is in no way a simple tipple. Loads of red and black Cherry on the nose, with oak spice. The palate is full with some richness. There’s a typical Pinot earthiness that stops far before being ‘pongy’. A touch of vanilla, cloves, spice, red and dark cherry fruits sticks around on the palate, before a fresh tightening of acidity. The tannins do their job in silence. Touch bitter on the very end. It’s a crackingly good wine to drink. 16.5
2012 Crystallum Cuvée Cinema Pinot Noir – R280
All the grapes from the Hemel-en-Aarde ridge. Pale purple with red. The nose was all rich bright red fruit. With, strangely, watermelon sweets. Bright sweet fruit on the palate. Dark sour cherry, with oak spice and a gritty, savoury finish. More complex than the Peter Max. Layers of aroma and flavour, from sweet fruit, floral delicacy, to an earthy savoriness with oak spice. Very pure. With good intensity. 17.5
2012 Crystallum Bona Fide Pinot Noir – R280
A new wine from Crystallum. This was the most serious of the three. All the fruit from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Very savoury and rich, but disquietingly light. Dark fruits, spice, and a long, stretched finish. The finish is seemingly pulled by the fine – more present – tannins and acidity for ages. The wine though is still very tight, and offers less immediate pleasure than the previous two. Lay this one down for awhile. 18