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Gorgeous Pinot Noir from Heaven-and-Earth
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 23, 2017
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Botanica Wines, The Mary Delaney Collection Pinot Noir, Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa, 2013 (USA Wine West, about $27):  When I visited South Africa a few years ago, one of my most memorable days was spent in the region known as the Cape South Coast, southeast of Cape Town, and its Walker Bay wine district.  I can still recall walking the beach outside the town of Hermanus, looking for whales in the distance and snapping photos of two children cavorting in the white sand.  I can also recall the wines of the area --especially Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, grown under cool Atlantic Ocean influences and showing vibrant acidity with stylistic restraint.

I recently compared three Pinot Noir wines from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley ward, the most important area for Pinot Noir in the Walker Bay district.  (Poetically, the name translates as “Heaven and Earth.”)  This is a historic area for Pinot Noir in South Africa because it is the place where Tim Hamilton-Russell planted the country’s first cool-climate Pinot Noir vines in 1975, winning rave reviews for his Burgundy-like Pinots and Chardonnays.  Today the area is home to more than a dozen wineries.

My favorite wine of the three very good Pinot Noirs that I tasted was the actually the lightest of the three, the 2013 Mary Delany Collection Pinot Noir made by Botanica Wines.  (Inspired by the botanical collages created by English artist Mary Delany in the 18th century, Ginny Povall of Botanica Wines licensed several of the collages to use as label art.)  Botanica planted its first vines less than eight years ago and chose its coolest site for clone 115 Pinot Noir vines.  The 2013 is a quintessential cool climate Pinot, pale in color, delicate in aroma and flavor and lively in structure.  Its aromas and flavors suggest pure red cherry and raspberry, with a hint of spiciness and an underlying note of underbrush.  In your mouth the wine is medium-bodied and dry with vibrant acidity, a moderate amount of firm tannin and silky texture.  Despite the wine’s modest weight, the finish shows a true concentration of fruit.  Winemaking involved whole berry fermentation and just ten percent new oak as part of its French oak aging regime.

The 2013 Vrede Pinot Noir (about $48) is produced by Storm Wines.  This is only the second vintage of this wine, as the clone 115 Pinot Noir vines were just planted in 2008.  The wine boasts a gorgeous perfume of dark cherries complemented by a smoky note that’s likely oak-derived.  In your mouth the black cherry and berry flavors are ripe and opulent and the wine is full-bodied, but not heavy.  Lively acidity and fine-grained tannins create a velvety texture and a solid structure that balances the wine’s strong aromatics.

The 2012 Galpin Peak Pinot Noir by Bouchard Finlayson (about $47) is the biggest and boldest of the three Pinots from Hemel-en-Aarde Valley that I tasted, and it hails from one of the area’s pioneer wineries, established in 1989.  The wine’s aromas and flavors suggest blackberry and plum, floral accents, and toasty oak in the background.  The wine enters your mouth so soft that it almost seems sweet and then its dark flavors open on the mid-palate, with delicate tannin emerging to give some grip and character.  This wine is all about its flavors and their rich, fruity expression, culminating in a long flavorful finish.  Winemaking in this case involved 30 percent new French oak barrels during a ten-month oak-aging period. I sense that this wine in particular can age beautifully.

These three Pinot Noirs are very different in style but they do have something in common.  The fruit expression of each wine is beautiful — the flavors specific, pronounced, and varietally on-target.  In my thinking, this characteristic can come only from good grapes grown in a good terroir.  That’s why Hemel-en Aarde is acclaimed as an elite Pinot Noir zone.

I scored all three wines at 90 points, despite their stylistic differences.  Your own favorite will depend on your preferred style of Pinot Noir.