Thursday, April 18, 2019

Celebrating 50 years of Pinotage at Meerendal

An invitation from Bennie Howard to join him and his colleagues at a celebration of Meerendal's 50 years of making Pinotage just had to be accepted. And yes, we did get to taste this 1969 vintage and others. It was a fantastic evening
Sales manager David Sibande chauffeured us
The tasting was to be held in the cellar and we all gathered outside
Some snacks were provided to assuage any hunger before the tasting. Dinner would follow it
And we could enjoy some of Meerendal’s MCC
Bennie Howard, Cape Wine Master, handles Public Relations and Marketing for Meerendal
First a trip to see the original hillside Pinotage vineyard 
Cellarmaster Liza Goodwin talked about the grapes and the vineyard and encouraged us to taste the few grapes left on the vines. They have finished harvest
and Bennie showed us what the vineyard still produces
They are very old bush vines
Traditional kuipe, but with a modern cooling system
The last three are still full of fermenting pinotage. It has been modernised and they have an automatic punch down machine
Inside the cellar
One guest brought a bunch of pinotage grapes from the vineyard
We tasted them and the flavour is intense and sweet, just what perfect pinotage needs
Time to take our seats for the tasting
Opening old bottles of wine can be a challenge but Bennie is an expert
He told us that the corks were still good, he had only one that crumbled
Meerendal's previous owners, Oom Kosie Starke's family did not leave a vinoteque, sadly, so these bottles came from different sources. Michael Fridjhon contributed two of the older bottles from his cellar, some came from Bennie's own collection and some were bought from collectors. Sadly, Michael was not able to join us to taste his wines
An attentive audience
The Meerendal Pinotages have come from the same vineyard for 50 years. KWV did the first bottling of Meerendal and the wines were made there and later at the Bergkelder until 1996, when they were first made at Meerendal. Owner Herman Coertze bought the farm in 2003 and changed the vineyard practices. The vineyard was declared a Heritage block in 2005. Meerendal is a founding member of the Old Vines Project in SA
Our impressive tasting sheet. It is very rare that one is able to taste wines as old as this
The 1969 has brick coloured edges and was completely opaque. Porty at first on the nose then balsam, cherry, raisins, spice - cinnamon and nutmeg, mushroom forest floor and dark wood appeared. Unexpectedly complex at this age. Silky soft with lovely berry fruit at first but it did age quickly in the glass. It was impressive for a 50 year old wine
The old 'bus ticket' certification stickers on the 1974
And a later one in gold, nogal!
The 1974 was also opaque, chocolate brown with orange edges. Balsam, cooked plums & brandy, some caramel toffee and also quite complex on the nose. On the palate caramel, tart quince fruit, mouth puckering limes, salt and dark umami flavours
An expert nose
l to r 1969, 1974, 1978. The corks were surprising, they had lasted very well. The 1978 had lots of cherry berry fruit on the nose with hints of smoke. It was still full of fruit, cherries and dark plums, with freshness and tension. Nice chalky tannins, warmth of alcohol, a touch of Durbanville salt; this is a very good wine. It was the most appreciated in the room and has lasted so well
1978 had pale orange edges, is dark garnet in colour and not opaque
The 1982 had buchu and mint with dark berry fruit on the nose, lots of soft cherry fruit, herbs, complexity, and tension and length, The wood supports with some licorice on the end. The 1996 was a little miffy on the nose from the bottle we had, the other bottle was not. On the nose over extracted fruit, very rich and too complex with plum and apple aromas. On the palate over ripe fruit, chalky tannins, and an acidic end like a balsamic vinegar. Has not lasted well
The impressive 2005 Heritage Block came from a dry vintage, it spent 22 months on new French oak. Dark garnet in colour, it has an elegant perfumed nose with dive in fruit, cherries with some wildness and ashyness from the Cinsault parent of Pinotage. Full on the palate , lots of fruit weight and complexity, it has all the elements in perfect balance: fruit, wood, alcohol and acidity. The once tight tannins are beginning to release. Dark wood and salt on the end. Drinking very well but it could age much longer. This is Meerendal's "put away" wine, the current vintage is 2010

But here is the conundrum. Many in the room thought this wine was drinking fantastically now. But others said it's too young, it needs to age more. Why? How much more? Realistically, how many bottles are there out there in cellars? If we could find this wine on sale, most of us would scoop it up like a trophy and drink it now. Most wines are drunk too young; incredibly, in the first 48 hours after purchase. So why does a wine, with nearly 15 years under its belt, need more time? And, who should be keeping it longer? You or the wine farm?
They also released this new wine on the night The Pinotage Vine 2014, made in the ripasso style. Wine maker Liza Goodwin describes the wine as an example of how versatile Pinotage grapes are. After maturation in barrels for 11 months the wine from the 2016 vintage was exposed to the fresh skins of the 2018 Heritage block grapes. It then spent a further seven months in small French oak barrels before bottling. The wine has been triple fermented. A very slow third alcoholic fermentation takes place over 2 weeks after the skins are added and the wine is then put back into barrel. Because the skins have almost no sugar left on them, the alcohol level hardly changes, but they do add a new dimension of flavour. "It is an elegant, full-bodied wine with layers of savoury aromas. Lovely ripe dark plum flavours linger on the palate and are complemented by soft, silky oak tannins. This is the ideal wine for stews, braised red meats, game and mature cheese" says Bennie Howard and we agree with him, it went so well with our main course at dinner following the tasting
The colours of the wines
1982 1996 2005
1969 1974 1978 
vintages in the glasses
Farm Manager Altus van Lill told us that the Heritage Block Pinotage was planted in 1955 and is one of the four oldest remaining Pinotage vineyards in South Africa. Meerendal is taking part in a project in conjunction with Vititec, the South African leader for the improvement of vine plant material, which involves the identification, treatment and cleaning of any viruses of the best vines in the 1955 Heritage block. The new planting material will be used to fill the gaps in the old block. In this way the DNA of the original vines from Professor Perold, the founder of Pinotage, will be preserved
Time for dinner, this was our menu
And the wines we were served were the classic Meerendal Sauvignon Blanc, full of green peppers and gooseberries and crispness with a little touch of Durbanville salt on the end, and we could enjoy the just released 2014 The Pinotage Vine
The starter of Springbok Carpaccio served with sliced beetroot, a caper and basil emulsion and a parmesan cream was delicious. The bread stick or Stokbrood is called Damper in Australia and Snobrød in Denmark; it is cooked on a braai or open fire
The Meerendal 2014 The Pinotage Vine was served with the slow cooked lamb, which was braised in pinotage in a pizza oven, accompanied by couscous, roasted baby carrots and fresh green beans. The pinotage jus was delicious and the lamb very soft. The wine was a great pairing for the lamb
Owner of Meerendal, Herman Coertze, spoke after one of David Hughes famous rhyming Graces. He welcomed us and said how nice it was to have some of the older members of the wine industry here! He listened with passion to what we said about the wines we tasted and thanked us all for being there for the 50th anniversary of Pinotage on Meerendal. He hoped that the youngsters here will be around to taste the wines with their children in 50 years time. He reminded us that Bennie, Duimpie Bayly (who was here) and Tony Mossop, (sadly deceased) studied for their Cape Wine Masters at the same time. He was very grateful for the wines which had been donated and was glad that The Bergkelder had made some of the older wines available from their vinoteque, as they were lowering their stocks. He said that the Starke family had left with all the wine stock. Bennie had phoned Distell to ask what they were doing with all the Meerendal stock they have, so they traded a conference on Meerendal for some of their stocks as they want to try to build up a vinoteque. Collectors often phone offering older wines and they are very happy to talk to them, but the wine must have been properly cellared. He thanked Michael Fridjhon and the wine industry for sharing
Here's to the next 50 years!
Smile for the birdie
Meerendal Chenin Blanc Natural Sweet 2009 was a perfect match for the Crème Brulée
and a lovely sweet ending to an epic tasting 

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