|The tasting was held at 'Auslese' restaurant in Cape Town and seven vintages from 1996 to 2006 were on show. Amongst the line-up were some international examples and for the most part they were easily identifiable.
Peter's Pinot Noirs began their road to fame in 1993 when he managed 220 cases from very young vines and after a warm and long summer in 1996 his wine was among the first to be chosen for serving on British Airways First Class. The '96 vintage we tasted was still full of raspberry flavours and behind farmyard tertiary characters still offered sleek and sinewy fruit. For the 1997 Peter increased prices which surprised some, but after the Tête de Cuvée won the Burgundy Trophy at the IWC most clamoured to buy. Despite some vegetal notes and leaner fruit the 1997 was still alive and kicking, showing tight red berry and leather notes. The 1998 was a classic Pinot. The nose was of stewed raspberries and the palate was delicate, charming and fresh. Peter thought it was holding together well and didn't expect it to 'drop off' anytime soon.
Pinot Noir must be one of the few grapes that don't rely on huge aggressive tannins to ensure longevity. Peter emphasises, "Every year I try to work with less tannins". The key is fruit quality and careful handling and though Peter believes that Pinot 'needs new oak' he is careful on how much of it is new and for how long. I stupidly asked if there was ever a place for American oak with Pinot Noir, "the trouble with US oak is that it creates a 'hole' in the wine and as the wine ages the hole gets bigger", he replied.
Then followed a trio of international Pinots. The 'Cloudy Bay' from New Zealand was so much more fruity and jammy. Though very enjoyable and highly rated the style was markedly different; so too the Californian from Domaine Alfred, which was sweeter, darker, chunkier and spicy. "Don't forget", said Peter, "Pinot Noir is not a gentle, soft, wine". We tend to think of Pinot for its role as a white grape in Champagne, but its potential is so different. The previous wine, a 1er Cru from the Hospices de Beaune in Burgundy showed some of that potential. The 2001 was tangy, rich, though a touch shy but with pristine fruit and a long finish. It was more in line with the Bouchard Finlayson Pinots and I very much thought that Peter is following the 'classic' model.
The 2004 was rich, chary and deeply hued, with clean fruit and pleasant mouthfeel, the most approachable now, Peter thought, and the 2006 more savoury, a touch leaner and less forward. The stars, though, were the 2003 and 2005. Both had some tertiary notes and raspberry herbaciousness. They are undoubtedly classy and reveal layers of flavour. Both were complex, lingering and finely crafted. Time for another silly question, I thought; "do you find your wines need time to open up?" I asked, "maybe, but it's usually the people that do the opening up after several glasses", Peter replied.
The evening was rounded off (other than with the delicious canapés from Auslese) by the 2010 Galpin Peak, a sumptuous and stylish wine. Raspberries and cherries, oak tannins and big flavours, this is a wine demanding attention. "Wine has to have personality" says Peter. His aim is to make wines that are natural, not forced.
The future for SA wine and Pinot Noir? "We are an industry which, since the monopoly breakup, is now defined by the producer", and we have to get it right. "The French are years ahead of us" in matching varieties to areas and working with the terroir, Peter believes. For great Pinot Noir this is essential, it is so site sensitive and I got the impression that despite Pinot's reputation as being an unachievable 'Holy Grail' of wines Peter believes that if you get the basics right and aim for texture, structure and balance then truly good Pinot Noir is possible, and it is happening with many SA producers. Despite Pinot being 'the continuous tease' as Peter called it, he will continue to pursue 'classic' Pinot Noir; "I make red wines, not black wines", he says.