Since the last month has been dominated by North America, along with the usual European and Australian influences, it’s time to have a look at another wine of South Africa. As a continent, Africa is not as well represented as I would like in this blog. However, as a country I’ve covered as many wines of South Africa as I have from the United States, so I don’t feel so bad, particularly given how thin on the ground they are here in Australia. From the Xhosa word for king, I give you the Kumkani Pinotage 2009.
This is not our first Pinotage, so for a description of the variety itself it might be worth reading my write up of the Warwick Estate I had back in June. That wine turned out to be a blend, so this is the first varietal Pinotage, and I have a couple more tidbits to share. First, I’ve actually had some Australian Pinotage from Oak Works which was very interesting, though as a clearskin so I can’t really write it up. Second, in addition to the experimental plantings of Pinotage outside of South Africa in Australia, New Zealand and the United States, I spotted a Canadian Pinotage while I was visiting, though sadly I didn’t get a chance to try it.
This is a wine of Stellenbosch, within the Coastal Region of the Western Cape, located between Cape Town and Franschhoek and to the south/southwest of Paarl. The climate is Mediterranean, with hot summers and cool, rainy winters. Soils are generally divided into the light, sandy soils on the plains and heavier soils in the hills, along with some decomposed granite found at the base of eastern mountains. The eponymous town has long been a centre for the industry in South Africa, both as the heart of one of the original wine regions and as the home of viticultural research at the University of Stellenbosch.
Kumkani is something of a rarity as far as wine producers. First, it has been a black owned business since January of this past year. Wine production and consumption in South Africa has long been of a European tradition. However, lately there has been an increase in both the percentage of black owned wine producers and interest in wine among black South Africans, particularly the growing middle class.
Second, Kumkani is co-owned by winemaker Allison S. Adams-Witbooi. A graduate of the University of Stellenbosch and a veteran of wineries in northern Italy, southern France and throughout South Africa, she is both the brand ambassador and actively involved in the winemaking. While the sex of the owner or winemaker is not something normally requiring a comment, female winemakers are still uncommon in South Africa. The work of Ms. Adams-Witbooi and others such as Ntsiki Biyela of Stellekaya is paving the way to erasing stereotypes about South African winemakers.
Kumkani produces ten or so wines, including three blends of paired varieties, a trio of varietals in the form of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and this Pinotage, and single vineyard varietal expressions of Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, as well as a Méthode Cap Classique sparkler.
Kumkani is one of four brands of “the company of wine people” which is South Africa’s fifth largest exporter of packaged wines (as opposed to bulk). The other labels include Arniston Bay which is branded as a New World lifestyle set of wines, Welmoed which draws on European heritage and traditions dating back to its origins in 1690, and Versus which is a set of “unconventional” wines in dry and sweet formats without any varietal indicators.
In the glass this wine is clear and bright with a dark ruby colour and thick legs when swirled. On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium intensity and notes of blackberries, some tar, black pepper, and sweet spice. On the palate it’s dry with medium acidity, medium plus intensity, medium plus alcohol, medium fine tannins, medium plus body and a medium finish. There are notes of cedar, blackberries, blackcurrants, some pencil lead, and sweet spice on the finish.
This is a good wine – it’s friendly on the palate with some sweet fruit but also some developed notes which give it complexity. While I think it’s made in a style suited to drinking young, it’s possible this would actually continue to improve with a few more years.