Maybe it’s time to stop the snickering when the topic of South African pinotage wine comes up. Sometimes associated with off-putting burnt tire aromas and flavors, pinotage can be a delicious wine when properly made. Simonsig red wines proved that maybe the burnt rubber boogeyman is on the run.
Fashioned in 1925 as a cross between cinsault and pinot noir in an attempt to create a hardier grape variety, the red pinotage grape became synonymous with South Africa. Today, pinotage represents about 8 percent of South Africa’s total vineyard area, but is still the grape variety most associated with the country.
The burnt rubber flaw is attributed to various smoking guns ranging from viruses plaguing vines in vineyards to unclean and unsanitary winemaking procedures. In any event, researchers point to sulphur compounds in some wines as the culprit, and the offensive smell is not limited exclusively to South Africa. Occasionally it also shows up in some German rieslings and Northern Rhone syrahs.
We’ve tasted Simonsig wines in the past and offered positive comments on their efforts. A sampling of recent releases revealed four current releases as South African red wines worth our reader’s consideration.
The Simonsig Pinotage Stellenbosch South Africa 2016 ($18) is a good start for those wanting to experience a South African wine at a reasonable price. Made entirely from pinotage with pleasant berry fruit and a hint of integrated oak, this entry-level pinotage a good value.
A major step up is the Simonsig Redhill Pinotage Stellenbosch 2016 ($38). If you’ve tried an entry-level pinotage and yearn to experience what pinotage has under the hood, try this full throttle sports car of a wine. Somewhere in style between a well-made red wine from Napa Valley of a Grand Cru Bordeaux, this beauty is a sleek 100 percent pinotage that expresses plum, berry, and cedar notes in an elegant package. Definitely worth the financial outlay.
We have previously commented on our impression of the potential of the syrah grape in South Africa and the Simonsig Merindol Syrah Stellenbosch 2014 ($44) once again reinforces or view. All syrah, this elegant red wine is velvety smooth in the mouth with cherry and plum notes and a hint of vanilla. Very complete and pleasing.
The Simonsig version in the red blend category is the Simonsig Tiara Stellenbosch 2014 ($39) composed of 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 22 percent merlot, 4 percent petite verdot, 4 percent malbec, and 2 percent cabernet franc. The result is a very complex and satisfying, perfectly balanced Bordeaux style wine that presents blueberry, cherry and cedar elements with a hint of chocolate. If you want to see the potential of South African red wines try this beauty.
The phrase “everything old is new again” was never more appropriate than referring to contemporary interest in a cocktail that hasn’t been seen the light of day since the advent of refrigeration at the end of the 19th century.
A shrub is a cocktail crafted from fruit or spice flavoring, sugar, and vinegar as well as the addition of an alcoholic spirit. They are making a comeback in the current cocktail scene.
Most shrub bases were homemade in the 18th and 19th century when they were popular. Today, a goodly number of producers make flavored shrub bases that only need the addition of an alcoholic spirit and simple syrup or sugar to produce a fashionable and tasty cocktail.
Shrubs originally were created to preserve fresh fruit by adding sugar and vinegar to extend their shelf life. The shrub could be drunk without alcohol but more famously they included a dose of distilled spirit. Today premixed bottled shrubs are gracing the shelves of liquor and wine specialty shops in a bewildering display of variations and flavors. Rosemary/basil, strawberry/rhubarb and cranberry/hibiscus are just a few of the rainbow of flavors available.
We recently tasted a number of shrub iterations and for the most part enjoyed the tasty cocktails. Our experience, however, proved that some shrub mixes can over prescribe the amount of the vinegar base with a predictable face-scrunching outcome. The vinegar component in a cocktail should be treated as a spice not a main ingredient.
When tasting a shrub, the vinegar element should fall somewhere in between what is an interesting flavor and a secondary, supporting flavor in the drink. A ratio of three- or four-to-one spirit mixed with the shrub base and simple syrup seemed about right. We came across one cocktail recipe that called for equal parts shrub base to alcoholic spirit and simple syrup and can attest it didn’t work, except maybe as salad dressing.
Our limited sampling of shrubs left us with a favorite recipe, introduced to us by a neighbor Bob Billy. The following shrub, which is based on a Shrub and Company spicy ginger shrub mix, reinforced our inclination to use brown spirits when making a shrub cocktail. The bold pronounced flavor of brown whiskeys seems to stand up to and complement the vinegar-dominant shrub mixes better than clear spirits.
The recipe: 3 parts Bourbon, 1 part Shrub and Co. spicy ginger shrub, 1 part simple syrup, lime juice, and a topping of ginger beer.
Ancient Peaks Zinfandel Paso Robles Santa Margarita Ranch 2016 ($20). This zinfandel from Ancient Peaks is a big rich full throttle fruit bomb (in a good way). 15.5 percent alcohol blends seamlessly with ripe cherry and black raspberry notes and a bit of mocha in the finish. Try with full flavored barbeque.
Alpha Estate Axia Red PGI Fiorina 2015 ($21). A well-priced, even blend of xinomavro and syrah. Bright berry fruit notes with enticing spice elements lead to a long smooth finish.
Cantine-Feudi di San Marzano Sessantanni Primitvo Di Manduria DOP Old Vines Puglia 2015 ($39). A bold muscular wine crafted from 60-year-old bush vines. Primitivo and zinfandel are very closely related clones of their parent crljenak kastelanski from Croatia. This primitivo is a monster (in a good way) and reminded us a full throttle California petite sirah. Blueberry and cedar notes dominate this bold mouth filling fruit driven red wine.