When it comes to South Africa, no grapes are more typical and treasured than Pinotage, Cinsault and Chenin Blanc.
They call them the ‘heritage’ grapes. And I find the story of how they came to be fascinating.
A rich grape growing history
Although it’s a ‘new world’ country, the history of wine in South Africa is anything but.
The first Chenin Blanc vineyard was planted in 1659, and until the last couple of decades, it was mainly used to produce brandy.
Cinsault was then planted in the mid-1800s. These days you’ll find it adding brightness and charm to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and in all those trendy Provence rosés.
They loved it back then for its high yields, handy for making port-style reds.
And Pinotage is a crossing of Pinot Noir and Cinsault, invented in a university garden in Stellenbosch in 1924.
Survival of the fittest
When apartheid ended and South Africa opened up to global trade in the 90s, the world suddenly had access to a new and very cheap source of wine.
Demand for international varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz soared.
And so the heritage grapes were ripped out in favour of these more recognisable varieties.
Cinsault dropped from 28% of South Africa’s vineyards to just 2% today.
It does mean however that whatever vines were kept, there was a very good reason for it.
Which was that the grapes were far too good to be yanked.
Step forward Alex McFarlane, whizzkid winemaker
Alex is one of South Africa's most exciting young talents.
She’s one of a new generation of winemakers down there - well-travelled, well-informed, and fiercely determined to put South African wine right up there among the world’s best, where it belongs.
She went the less glamourous route in college - majoring in viticulture (vineyards) instead of enology (winemaking) in college.
It was a smart move. As the old saying in the business goes, ‘great wine starts in the vineyard’.
After 6 years tending to some of Stellenbosch’s top vineyards and turning them organic, Alex went it alone in 2019 and launched McFarlane Wines.
And her star is on the rise. Four of her wines recently got 4.5 stars in Platter’s Wine Guide, and two got 93 points from Tim Atkin, both the go-to references for South African wine.
I’ve come full circle - introducing Saturday’s Child Pinotage
A bit like coriander, Pinotage has a real marmite rep. And I’ll openly admit it, I’ve always been a sceptic (of both).
And learning from Alex, I now know why.
You see, most of it is made in a style to satisfy international buyers looking for big reds. It’s picked too ripe, and then over-worked in the winery to increase the flavours even more.
But if you think about its heritage - Pinot Noir and Cinsault, both lighter reds - you’ll realise this is the worst thing you could do.
Grown on cooler sites and in the right hands, it can be amazing (I'm talking about Pinotage here, not coriander).
And that’s exactly what we have with Saturday's Child.
The new vintages are here - it’s the perfect time to try them
Alex’s 2022 vintages have arrived at just the right time. These are the wines in the latest shipment:
- Tuesday’s Child Cinsault - a blend of old vine Western Cape fruit, this shows why Cinsault is on the rise. Juicy, bright and aromatic, this is one for the Burgundy fans. Pinot-like elegance at just 12% alcohol - the holy grail! You’ll also get to try the 2022 and 2021 vintages so you can see the difference between a warm and cool year
- Monday’s Child Chenin Blanc - picked from immaculate Stellenbosch bush vines and aged in old oak, then bottled unfined and unfiltered to preserve all that gorgeous character. An aromatic, flinty and floral nose leads to an intense, piercing and refreshing palate, with gorgeous texture and impressive length
- Saturday’s Child Pinotage - forget everything you thought you knew about Pinotage and try this wine. The grapes come from the cool-climate Walker Bay region, just south of Cape Town. The winemaking is incredibly gentle which allows the gorgeously perfumed and aromatic fruit in the wine to shine. Finally a Pinotage I can get behind!
These wines sum up everything that’s amazing about South African wine
You can now try three heritage grapes which have survived and stood the test of time.
And in the hands of one of the country’s brightest young talents.
This kind of value and access is what being a member is all about!