Graham Beck Pinno Pinotage 2004
This $10 red wine is a stylish South African Pinotage (a uniquely South African cross
between Pinot Noir and Cinsault grapes created in the 1920s). The dry wine has moderate
tannins, a sassy acidity, the bottle graphics are super, and the jet-black composite cork is a
definite keeper; I can see it as a jewelry constituent. Beyond the look and feel of the bottle
(arguably a factor if it doesn't hide defects), I like the wine. I'm having it tonight with
leftover meatloaf, but let me stress that this is my meatloaf, carefully spiced and
smothered in lovingly sautéed shallots. The wine performs.
My abiding nose note was strawberry jam; call it red fruit, though I fail to find the plum I have seen cited by the maker and several other commentators; a range of red berries is the strongest note. On the nose I also detected a certain smokiness and whiff of green bell pepper. The palate added tobacco and biscuit. The biscuit can be attributed to malolactic fermentation, but I don't know where the tobacco comes from, since the wine seems to be unoaked, as far as my research can tell me. I cannot taste or even detect the banana notes cited by the maker and several commentators, but I have come to think I am “Chaquita-challenged,” seeing that I don't really digest bananas all that well. That said, the wine has a whiff of tropicality to which I cannot assign a particular fruit; banana will serve.
This wine is in your face, strictly New World, a success, and an excellent value. It does have
high acidity—by no means out of place or leading to imbalance—and hence should work well
with high acid foods, or high fat foods that need the acidity to cut through; it will stand up to
a barbecue. This is not the stuff of contemplation or quasi-religious experience, but it is a
well-made wine, far superior to many wines in its price range that may be—at best—drinkable.
Verdict: Drain That Bottle
South African winemakers keep at it, ready to make their mark after so many years of frustration. Watch out for them.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman