When it comes to wine, South Africa may better known for Pinotage than its Pinot Noir. But these five South African Pinot Noir examples may change your mind.
Mention Pinot Noir, and South Africa doesn’t generally come to mind. Instead you’ll think of famous Old World wine regions such as Champagne and Burgundy in France, or the Spätburgunder from Germany’s Ahr Valley, otherwise you’ll turn to New World examples such as the Willamette Valley in Oregon and New Zealand’s Central Otago, for example.
South Africa? That’s Pinotage country. If you look for South Africa’s wine production statistics by varietal, chances are the classic Burgundian grape varietal that is Pinot Noir doesn’t even show up.
But that’s changing. While South Africa may not be as well known as those iconic regions for Pinot Noir, the country – located at the southernmost tip of the African continent – does produce some noteworthy examples. Relatively new to South Africa, the best plots of Pinot Noir are beginning to come of age for fine wine production. It thrives particularly in the mountainous areas that throng through the country’s coast, particularly across the winemaking regions of Cape South Coast such as Walker Bay, Elgin, and Hemel-en-Aarde.
To celebrate the coming Pinot Noir Day on August 18th, we’ve partnered with Singapore-based specialty wine importers Winetoshare.com and Stellez Vine to pick out five great examples of South Africa Pinot Noir for you to discover.
Creation ‘The Art Of Pinot Noir’ 2019
South Africa’s Creation Wines recently got into the news for grabbing the No.4 spot in this year’s World’s 50 Best Vineyards, beating out bigger and more familiar names such as South Australia’s d’Arenberg, Duoro Valley’s historic Quinta do Noval and Quinta do Crasto, and even Bordeaux’s highly lauded chateaus d’Yquem and Pape Clément.
Which also makes it South Africa’s best vineyard. And little wonder. This family-owned wine estate is based in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley in the Walker Bay wine district of South Africa’s Cape South Coast, one of the most biodiverse wine regions in the world. Here husband-and-wife team JC Martin and Carolyn Finlayson-Martin – both scions of winemaking families – have been making excellent wines since 2002, focusing particularly on fine wines made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Creation’s top-of-the-line ‘The Art of Pinot Noir’, in particular, stands out for being an excellent specimen that can stand up to top examples of Pinot from around the world. Expect ethereal wood smoke and mushroomy moist earth intertwined with fresh cherry and ripe raspberry notes.
Creation ‘Art of Pinot Noir’ 2019 is available from Winetoshare.com at S$165. Buy it here.
La Brune Pinot Noir 2020
Nico Grobler, long-time winemaker at Stellenbosch’s Eikendal Vineyards, first fell in love with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on multiple visits to Bourgogne where his friend and vigneron Bruno Lorenzon of Mercurey’s Domaine Lorenzon shared with him the wonders of those Burgundian varietals. That led to Grobler starting his own wine project La Brune over 10 year ago, but in 2021 he moved to Elgin Valley in Cape South Coast to fully focus on making his own wines.
Has Grobler succeeded in making a South Africa bottling of Pinot Noir that would match a stellar one from Burgundy in terms of finesse, restraint, and purity? Why, yes. The La Brune Pinot Noir 2020 is a great example of his elegant, traditional Burgundian approach. You’re looking at a wine whose grapes hail from a high density vineyard in the cool Elgin clime planted to four or five different clones, treated with minimal intervention, and then matured in custom-made, untoasted Burgundian oak barrels. What you have here is a Pinot Noir of amazing poise and balance, with breezy floral notes enveloping fresh berry flavours accented with sensual, finely integrated oak.
The La Brune Pinot Noir 2019 is available from Winetoshare.com at S$85. Buy it here.
Crystallum Peter Max Pinot Noir 2022
Third generation owner-winemakers Peter-Allan and Andrew Finlayson of Hemel-en-Aarde, Walker Bay-based Crystallum Wines come from a noble line of South African vintners – father Peter founded Hamilton Russell Vineyards and produced their first-ever vintage of Pinot Noir, while grandfather Maurice founded Bouchard Finlayson and was a key pioneer in developing Hemel-en-Aarde Valley into the wine region it is today. You could say that wine runs in their blood.
But not just any wine. Both Maurice and Peter specialise in cool climate wines – particularly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – and brothers Peter-Allan and Andrew follow in their footsteps with family-run, independently-owned Crystallum. Here they find a balance between Old World methods and respecting the region’s terroir, producing multi-vineyard blends and single vineyard expressions using the two Burgundian varieties exclusively. The Crystallum Peter Max 2020, for example, may be one of the more affordable wines in their range, but this multi-vineyard blend is distinctively Burgundian in expression. Expect a beautiful melange of red fruit – think cranberry, pomegranate, and cherry – supported by finely-tuned tannins and held together by a savoury, delicate mineral core.
The Crystallum Peter Max 2020 is available from Winetoshare.com at S$65. Buy it here.
Newton Johnson Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley Pinot Noir 2021
Another renowned Hemel-en-Aarde, Walker Bay-based winery with a penchant for Pinot Noir is Newton Johnson Vineyards. This family winery is currently run by brothers Bevan and Gordon Newton Johnson, who have taken over and continued their father Dave’s enthusiasm for the cool climate varietals of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The Newton Johnson brothers focus on producing minimal intervention wines designed to express the unique terroir of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, so you’re looking at South African Pinot Noir that burst with a purity of flavour. The Newton Johnson Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley Pinot Noir 2021 is a great example of their approach, which sees partial whole bunch spontaneous fermentation of grapes sourced from a specific part of the valley that’s followed by maturation for 11 months in a combination of new and old oak. The result is a wine that embodies authenticity and provenance, offering layered complexity of fresh berry compote intertwined with warming wood spices and tightly-woven tannins that luxuriate the palate.
The Newton Johnson Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley Pinot Noir 2021 is available from Stellez Vine at S$77. Buy it here.
The Drift Estate ‘There Are Still Mysteries’ 2019
Respected pioneering South African winemaker Bruce Jack of cult winery Bruce Jack Wines is best known for his edgy and unconventional approach to winemaking. Bruce Jack Wines produces a diverse range of wines from affordable plonk all the way to unusually rare, collectible wines, but The Drift Estate series of wines in its portfolio is where he explores the incredible richness of terroir that South Africa’s Cape South Coast offers when it comes to producing exceptional Pinot Noir.
Perhaps the pinnacle example here is The Drift Estate ‘There Are Still Mysteries’ 2019, a wine vinified with Pinot Noir fruit sourced from Hemel-en-Aarde, Elim, as well as Overberg Highlands. This is true mountain wine, exploding with the unmistakable crisp freshness and elegance of fruit ripened at higher altitudes. A decidedly light winemaking touch to respect the terroir – traditional basket press, natural fermentation, and 15 months in oak – results in a nuanced wine that’s absolutely heady on the nose and complex on the palate. Expect lively red fruit and comforting warming wood spices – which we’re beginning to think are the hallmarks of Pinot Noir from this part of South Africa – that linger like a sensual caress.
The The Drift Estate ‘There Are Still Mysteries’ 2019 is available from Stellez Vine at S$128. Buy it here.
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