The Cape Blend had been around for quite some time without the industry being able to agree on what exactly it should comprise. But when The Pinotage Association decided the only solution was to start a competition with specific criteria, things started to change.
Today the Cape Blend is a dynamic and exciting wine category, yielding bold, vibrant wines, truly representative of South Africa. This means that the blend must include Pinotage as its backbone, to a maximum of 70% and a minimum of 30%.
The Cape Blend also inspired the Perold Absa Cape Blend competition. The aim of this competition (launched in 2011 with 28 entries) was to promote a category of wines with a Pinotage component – representative of South Africa and possessing the kind of complexity, balance and ageability that would allow them to stand out on a world stage. But the question still remains, is the Cape Blend the true jewel in the crown of the South African wine industry?
“The winemakers’ only limitation is their imagination,” says Beyers Truter, chairman of the SA Pinotage Association, organisers of the Perold Absa Cape Blend competition in collaboration with Absa. “Apart from the prescribed Pinotage component, there are no restrictions on making a Cape Blend. The result is that we see an incredible stylistic diversity and creativity in the wines entered. Among the finalists there really is a wine to satisfy every palate and preference.”
Today it is probably safe to say that the Cape Blend is here to stay. The 2015 competition, which boasts the highest cash prize of any competition of its kind, received 52 entries. The indigenous Pinotage component highlights this cultivar’s ability to integrate seamlessly with and complement virtually any other variety. But does it have international appeal?
“Yes, it does,” says De Wet Viljoen, winemaker at Neethlingshof and chairman of the Perold Absa Cape Blend competition. “Using Pinotage in a blend is almost like building a bridge between Old and New World wines for the international consumer. The Cape Blend shows that there is much more to Pinotage in terms of versatility and longevity. It truly symbolises the complexity of South African wines. But we are still in our infancy.”
Johnnie Calitz, winemaker at Anura and one of the winners at the 2015 competition, agrees:
“The Cape Blend provides the perfect platform to promote South African wines. Every wine country has its distinctive wine, blend or grape variety. Pinotage, together with the Cape Blend, gives us that distinctive marketing tool.”
Looking at recent winners of the Perold Absa Cape Blend competition and the differences in their makeup, it is clear that there is no specific style, with all the wines displaying a distinct identity.
For Viljoen these blends represent the pinnacle of inspired creativity South Africa can offer: “We don’t aspire to a specific style. If I had to say what we are looking for in a Cape Blend, it would be balance, elegance and respect for the primary fruit. Balance is the essence of any wine. One-dimensional wines are boring and can quickly fall out of favour. We can do so much more than that.”
Calitz concurs with this and at Anura they change their Cape Blend from vintage to vintage. “The Anura LB Cape Cuvée 2014 was a blend of Pinotage, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, but next year we will play with other options. How the wine matures will definitely point us to the grape varieties that are most suitable. This year’s winning wine was a Bordeaux-style wine, Old World in style and structure, but with New World fruit giving the wine the perfect balance.”
What makes the Cape Blend interesting for the consumer is the fact that it makes the category of red blends more diverse. Says Oliver Cattermole, executive chef, Leeu Collection. “We have traditionally looked to the classics regarding blends, with the Bordeaux style leading the way. Over the past five or six years the Rhône style also became popular. The Cape Blend, of which Pinotage must be the focus component, expands the category and therefore introduces more wine drinkers to the wonders of this grape in its diversity.”
Ripe berry fruit
Cattermole suggests looking for ripe berry fruit when tasting a Cape Blend.
“There is no defined style to this wine. While Pinotage delivers the backbone, the other components add depth.
“I look for black cherry, perhaps a touch of leather on the nose, good fruit tannin and balanced oak bringing the wine together.”
He emphasises that when pairing a Cape Blend with specific foods, the style of the wine should determine the dish. “The lighter and mid-bodied styles go well with pasta dishes, game fish, poultry and pork. The more robust wines are perfect with ostrich, Karoo lamb or a good rib-eye, and if there are mushrooms, even better.”
As there are such diverse styles, it comes down to your own palate when buying a Cape Blend. Do you prefer mid-body, something more subtle, or do you like it big and bold like Table Mountain?
“In a restaurant it is advisable to let the sommelier guide you. For enjoying the wine at home, use a wine merchant where good advice is readily available,” Cattermole says. “Always be open-minded and ready to try new wines. And remember, a great wine costs only a little more, but is worth every cent. Do look out for some of the smaller, boutique producers. I have found some cracking wines over the years, some real hidden gems.”
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