James Laube Unfined
July 22, 2009
When Pinot Tastes Like Syrah It Might Be Pinotage
Last week during a blind tasting flight of 2007 Sonoma Pinot Noirs, I came across one wine that stood out, and that I really liked.
It was dark in color, notably spicy and peppery, with pretty floral scents and ripe, vivid black and wild berry fruit. Tight in structure, dense and concentrated, even a tad rustic, ending with a complex array of fruit, herb and anise, with firm tannins.
My first reaction: Is this a Syrah? Had I missed the change in varietals in the lineup? Did we shift from Pinot to Rhône reds?
The wine certainly fit the critique some people have of some California Pinots--that is, they’re too big and almost Syrah-like in their structure, strength and flavor profile.
When the bags came off, the wine made sense. It was a 2007 Pinotage ($38) from J Vineyards and Winery (which is owned by Judy Jordan, the daughter of Jordan Winery owner Tom Jordan, but is a separate entity). I liked the new J Pinots, too, but the Pinotage caught my fancy that day, and later that night as I tried it after it had had eight hours of aeration. It was still going strong the next day.
It’s a wonderful wine. Pinotage is rather rare in California, and I can only recall having tried a few others over the years. The grape is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. The latter grape gives it its tannic backbone and muscle, along with the pepper and spice, balancing out the more tender, fleshy, fruitier elements of Pinot Noir.
Pinotage first gained recognition as one of the signature wines from South Africa, where it was created in the 1920s. However, as my colleague James Molesworth pointed out in an article a few years ago, the grape and wine have fallen out of favor there.
J’s Pinotage isn’t the lone Pinotage from California. I’ve given high marks to Fort Ross’ Sonoma Coast bottlings as well. If you like Pinot but have never experienced a Pinotage, you owe it to yourself to try one and taste the crossroad of Pinot and Cinsault, or the point where red Burgundy meets the Southern Rhône.