Pinotage with Puch

“Look for the golden thread of commonality” said Stellenzicht winemaker Guy Webber as he presented a vertical tasting of ten vintages of Pinotage. But all I could taste were differences: the oldest, a ’98, was pure Burgundy with barnyard, bruised strawberries and biltong (and that was just the “b”s) while the ’99 was a subtle symphony of elegance and finesse.

guy Pinotage with Puch

2000 was mushroom soup, seashells and licorice, continents away from a very New World 01 with impressive intensity of luvverly jubberly fruit. 02 was a Madagascar of sweet vanilla and big, burly alcohol, totally different to an 03 with smoke rings and violets. 04 again was lively and fresh although was there perhaps a bit of rubber left on the grid Jane McQuitty? 05 was intensity city with sour cherries galore. 06 was a banana milkshake and a delight for Durbanites while 07 (a barrel sample) needs time for all that huge fruit and wood to integrate.

But one thing was clear: Pinotage improves with age. 2006 is current release (a reasonable R65 a bottle) but on the evidence of this vertical tasting, should be left to its own devices for a decade to develop complexity – or puch as Country Life’s Greg Landman put it.

If Pinotage the grape ever wants to hit the vinous big time, two things are needed: reliable supply of older vintages and perversely, higher prices. The Stellenzicht flagship is Guy’s Syrah (“already a steal at R180” he claims) but for Pinotage to ever compete on a level playing field of marketing spend and consumer attention, the price gap will have to be addressed. Do producers lack confidence in Pinotage that it must trade at a substantial discount? Lower retail prices for Pinotage when compared to Cabernet and Shiraz make a telling point.

So herewith a solution to both problems:

SA’s largest retail bank, ABSA, already bankrolls the cultivar to the tune of R1 million a year (plus an annual escalation). With banks now full of singed subprime chickens coming home to roost, perhaps all those MBAs and spare capacity can be put to use developing a Pinotage Bank. The aim is a simple one: to provide a vault of value – in this case, well-aged Pinotage.

The business plan is a simple one. Each year, buy up stocks of Top Ten Pinotage and secret them away in a vault downtown. After a decade’s maturation, re-release to the public and restaurateurs. For as Guy notes “restaurants build our brands”, but how can they when simple, young wines are the only stock available in quantity? The Pinotage Bank will be self-funding as the wines may be sourced at a discount from producers keen to develop a ten year later presence and when it comes to withdraw a deposit, a tidy profit may be expected, inflation being what it is.

All in all, a win-win-win scenario for consumers, producers and bankers alike. And unlike subprime mortgages, if the bottom falls out of the market, the stock can always be liquidated. Literally.