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5 of the Best Pinot Noirs From South Africa

When it comes to Pinot Noir, South Africa is not the first country that comes to mind. South African Pinot Noir is still under the radar — as are most South African wines — even though their quality and range has gotten better and better.

I first recognized the distinction of the Pinot Noirs back in 2016 on a visit to South Africa’s Winelands, as they are known. The wine areas are concentrated in the Cape region on the southern tip of the country, and all the appellations lie within a couple of hours of Cape Town, benefiting from the cooling breezes of the Atlantic Ocean.

It’s a region of spectacular beauty, wedged between the sea and the mountains. In the warmer inland areas like Stellenbosch, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon are the dominant red varieties. The cooler coastal areas in the south are where Pinot Noir does well, especially in the Walker Bay and Elgin regions.

Within Walker Bay, three appellations — all including the name Hemel-en-Aarde — produce some of the best South African Pinot Noirs and are drawing worldwide attention. I was impressed by them during a large tasting when I visited, and I wanted to come back to them eight years later.

Not only do the Hemel-en-Aarde wines continue to shine with their depth and complexity, but several other Pinot Noirs stood out from broader “Wine of Origin” designations, as South Africa’s appellation system is known. They include a couple labeled “Western Cape,” which encompasses just about all of South Africa’s wine areas and is the equivalent of saying a wine comes from “California.” Grapes from several different appellations can find their way into the blends.

Stylistically, the wines fall into the cool-climate category of Pinot Noirs, more akin in general to those of Burgundy, the Loire Valley, or Germany than the fuller, more alcoholic expressions typical of California.

Two of the wines on the list below are made by members of a new generation of winemakers soaring in post-apartheid South Africa, including Rüdger van Wyk, whose Kara-Tara wines are produced as a joint project with José Condé, owner of the well-known Stark-Condé winery in Stellenbosch.

“Coming from apartheid,” he told me in an interview in Cape Town in 2016, “wine education wasn’t that big in the Brown culture or the Black culture.” He credits a mentoring program for Black winemakers with putting him on the road to success. Kara-Tara refers to the small town where he grew up in the Western Cape.

Here are five Pinot Noirs from South Africa to try:

Kara-Tara Pinot Noir Western Cape 2021

The grapes for this excellent-value Pinot Noir are sourced from cool-climate vineyards in the Elgin, Overberg, and Durbanville areas of the Western Cape. The wine shows aromas and flavors of ripe raspberry and cherry with hints of orange rind and vanilla. A mineral note and refreshing acidity complete the picture. There’s a slight oak influence on the wine from aging in used French oak barrels. Kara-Tara’s 2021 Reserve Pinot Noir is also worth trying.

Price: $22
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Boschendal Pinot Noir Western Cape 2020

From a large winery that traces its origins back to 1685, this bargain wine (I’ve seen it listed for as low as $15), is a lighter expression of Pinot Noir with flavors of mixed berries, including a spicy cherry note, and a hint of earth. Just the right amount of acidity balances the fruit. Sixty percent of the blend comes from Elgin, another leading Pinot Noir appellation. If you’re looking for an easy-drinking house Pinot Noir, this would be it.

Price: $20
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Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir Hemel-en-Aarde Valley 2022

Hamilton Russell produces only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from estate-grown fruit, and the Pinot is one of South Africa’s benchmark wines for the variety. The 2022 is bursting with bright red fruit notes, along with hints of red and black licorice, earth and spice on a long finish. With firm tannins, it’s still quite young and will develop for several years. It’s a prime example of why I compare South African Pinots with the wines of Burgundy.

Price: $44
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Tesselaarsdal Pinot Noir Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge 2022

This wine has spicy and peppery red cherry and blueberry notes with a good deal of minerality. A hint of black licorice emerges as the wine opens up, and a refined fine tannic structure provides a perfect framework. There’s another interesting South Africa story here: Berene Sauls, who had worked for years in various capacities at Hamilton Russell Vineyards, started Tesselaarsdal in 2015. Her boss and mentor, Anthony Hamilton Russell, helped Sauls start on this venture. As Tesselaarsdal points out on its the wine’s back label, the winery is named after the farming hamlet of Tesselaarsdal, where Sauls was born, and that she is “a descendant of the freed slaves who were bequeathed the land by former East India Company settler, Johannes Tesselaar in 1810.”

Price: $48
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Storm Wines Pinot Noir ‘Ignis’ Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley 2021

This is a stunning and complex single-vineyard wine with concentrated blueberry, strawberry, and violet notes on the nose and palate. It’s a somewhat bigger Pinot than some of the others I tasted, and its concentrated fruit is enhanced by earthy minerality and supported by refreshing acidity. “Ignis” refers to the decomposed granite soils of the vineyard, which are evident at first smell and taste. The winery is owned by Hannes and Nathalia Storm, whose first vintage was 2012. With wines like this, it’s not hard to see how South African Pinot can give Burgundy a run for its money.

Price: $65
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Next up: The white wines of Portugal

The article 5 of the Best Pinot Noirs From South Africa appeared first on VinePair.

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