Guiseppe Quintarelli (right) making his magic. (Image from www.winephotos.com)

The Terroirist: Crossing Cinsault


Most wine regions have a grape that defines them; and most grapes have a region that does likewise for them. The northern Rhone has the Syrah, Beaujolais the Gamay, Chablis has Chardonnay. On the other side of the equation, Nebbiolo is best regarded in Piedmonte (more specifically Barolo), Vidal in Ontario, and Zinfandel in California. For South Africa, it both defines and is defined by it's own native grape - Pinotage (at least for reds, for whites, Chenin Blanc holds the pride of place).

If any grape can be said to have been invented, rather than discovered, Pinotage is high up on that list. It was not found growing in a farmer's field somewhere, or (like Zinfandel) mislaid in transit and given a new name - it was created quite deliberately 81 years ago by taking some Pinot Noir vines and crossbreeding them with Cinsault vines (which were called 'Hermitage' at the time, thus the name 'Pinotage'). There are a great many other cross-breeds, some done in labs, others spontaneously in the fields, although Pinotage is certainly one of the better known varieties. The crossbreeding process should not be confused with hybridisation, which is taking two vines of different species and crossing them, as was done with Ontario's own Vidal.

The resulting Pinotage is a high quality grape that combines good earth flavours, typical of Pinot Noir, along with pungent, slightly sweet aroma, and a good sugar/acid balance.

And now this fortnight's recommendations.

Something Red:
Diemersfontein Pinotage 2005 (Wellington, South Africa) $22.95, 995241
Very typical, both as a South African wine and as a Pinotage. Deep cherry red in colour, the aromas of burnt espresso, black chocolate, orange and ashphalt hit your nose full on. Full and rich in the mouth, with ideally balanced acidity, the palate is expressive of coffee, dark chocolate, plums and oranges. Drinkable now, but will improve and develop for three to five years onward. The ashphalt aromas are typical of the South African terroir, and can (along with a rubbery nose in others) make it easy to identify wines as South African.

Something White:
Tabali 'Reserva Especial' Chardonnay 2004 (Limart Vally, Chile) $18.95, 663005
A surprisingly good Chardonnay, with very well integrated oak and malo-lactic fermentation, this very pale yellow coloured wine presented deep tropical fruit, red and white berries, and pineapple aromas. A heavy and viscous mouthfeel brought notes of orange asian pear and vanilla beans on the palate. Really forward, really nice wine, could go well with a surf n' turf or cream soup.

Something to Dream About:
Quintarelli 'Rosso Ca'Del Merlo' 1997 (Veneto, Italy) $69.95, 958595
Giuseppe Quintarelli is a legend amongst Valpolicella producers. He is able to take what is often a light easy drinking wine, and turn it into something extraordinary and long lived. Despite being nearly nine years old, this wine still have plenty of life left in it, showing a deep garnet colour with a minimal rim. An amazingly complex nose of smoke, bacon grease, cherries, chocolates, coffee and strawberries. The palate isn't quite as resplendant as the nose, but still greets the tongue with smoke, cherry, milk chocolate, grease, and a hint of sweetness. Perhaps not the best value in the store, but an extraordinary wine nonetheless. It's drinking perfectly now, but if you need to wait two or three years for a really special dinner, the wine will be able to show through.

There are a surprising number of good, budget value wines out this saturday as well - don't be afraid to give some of them a try. If you're a fan of medium-sweet whites though, nothing beats the Anselmann Huxelrebe Auslese 2002 (681445) at only $13.95. An Auslese (late harvest) wine at that price is something I've never seen before. Definitely the value of the release.

Happy drinking; let me know what you find.


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