Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Mellasat Vineyards: A White Pinotage

Pinotage can be a polarizing grape, one that you either love or hate. However, I believe that much of the criticism is due to some poor examples from the past, and not a proper tasting of the wines that now are being produced in South Africa. I've long been a fan of Pinotage and was intrigued recently when perusing the wine shelves at the Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet in Melrose (where I work part-time) and noticed a White Pinotage.

White Pinotage? Red grapes can be used to make white wine as the color of wine is usually derived from the skins. If you press the red grapes quickly, and keep the juice away from the skins, you can obtain a "white" wine. That is a simple explanation for what can be a more complex process, but the important fact is to know that it is possible.

The Mellasat Vineyards are located at the foot of the Klein Drakenstein Mountains in the Paarl region of South Africa. Some of the vineyards were once part of the Dekkersvlei farm, which was established in 1693. In 1996, Stephen Richardson, an Englishman with a deep passion for wine, purchased the property  He replaced some of the pre-existing Chenin Blanc vines with Pinotage, and the entire vineyard is only around eight hectares.

In 2007, Richardson chose to create the first barrel-fermented White Pinotage. No other winery appears to make a still White Pinotage bottling, though under South African wine law, it cannot be labeled as a "white wine" because it is made from red grapes. Instead, it must be labeled as "blanc de noirs." The grapes are "whole bunched pressed without de-stemming or crushing in a pneumatic “bag” press to minimise colour retention." They are fermented in 300 liter Romanian oak barrels (19% new). The wine spends about 11 months in the barrel with regular stirring of the lees.

The 2012  Mellasat White Mellasat ($27) won't remind you of Pinotage and  in a blind taste test, you would never guess the correct grape. With an alcohol content of 13.5%, I found it to be complex, intriguing and delicious. I have seen several sources say that it is reminiscent of Chardonnay, and I can see some of the reasons for such a belief, but I also think there are differences too which might get you thinking of a few other white grapes, from Melon de Bourgogne to Viognier.

There is a certain richness to the wine, likely due to the time on the lees, but there is plenty of crisp acidity to balance this richness. That may bring to mind a fine Muscadet. There is an interesting melange of flavors, including tropical fruits and bright citrus, as well as a backbone of minerality. Well balanced and with a lengthy, satisfying finish, I loved this wine and feel the quality of the wine is worth the price. Even if you think you dislike Pinotage, you are going to enjoy this wine. It is unique and interesting, delicious and compelling.

Seek out this South African treasure.

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