Feb 25 2009
Hermit on the Hill Pinot Noir 2007
Not only in South Africa, but all around the world outside of Burgundy, the Pinot Noir grape has been placed on a pedestal that is hurting its thin-skinned butt. Those planning to make wine from it (forget about bubbly for a moment) are deemed to be poetic, romantic and driven Crusaders forging ahead in search of the vinous Holy Grail that countless wine-drinkers assume to be Pinot.
Make no mistake Γò¼├┤Γö£├ºΓö£Γöñ Pinot Noir is a tricky son of a bitch in the cellar, and depending on vintage or vinification its myriad flavour profiles can be scattered all over the place, including many directions the wine-maker or consumer do not want it to be.
But if it is treated with confidence bordering on the ordinary, and the quest is to make wine instead of a mystical nectar, the results can outshine those following the Γò¼├┤Γö£├ºΓö¼├║ah-woo-itΓò¼├┤Γö£├ºΓö£├╗s-PinotΓò¼├┤Γö£├ºΓö¼├æ approach.
This does not always work, even in Burgundy where this approach overrides any dependence on technical gizmos and wood experimentation. Burgundy student and amateur wine scribe Melvyn Minnaar, well-versed in the region due to benefactors sponsoring his annual freebies to the region, claims there is Γò¼├┤Γö£├ºΓö¼├║no poor Burgundy in BurgundyΓò¼├┤Γö£├ºΓö¼├æ. I have however had Burgundian Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays I wouldnΓò¼├┤Γö£├ºΓö£├╗t try to sell to the local Klein Karoo Co-op for bulk they were so bad. South Africa is making a lot of Pinot Noirs better than the Frogs outside Beaune are doing. And you donΓò¼├┤Γö£├ºΓö£├╗t have to pay or search the earth to find them.
The Hermit on the Hill is Pieter de Waal, a wine-maker whose technological and scientific expertise in the cellar is perhaps exceeded by enthusiasm, a fine palate and that one thing no wine-maker canΓò¼├┤Γö£├ºΓö£├╗t be taught: a gut-feel.
Hermit on the Hill has been traipsing around the Rh╬ô├╢┬ú╬ô├╢├▒ne and making some fine things out of Grenache and Shiraz. But a gut-feel, rather than a dedicated feeling to follow fashion, led him to produce a Pinot Noir from the 2007 vintage. This, the first of the CapeΓò¼├┤Γö£├ºΓö£├╗s cooler vintages following the belters in the first half of the millennium, produced Pinot Noir fruit of acceptable quality which Pieter picked up from the Faure area. With a no-nonsense approach typical of the Rh╬ô├╢┬ú╬ô├╢├▒ne ranger he is, the stuff was fermented, given treatment in wood I gather not much of which was new, and bottled.
No Rimbaud recitals or pseudo Burgundian harvest ceremonies on the Southern tip of Africa. And, thank you very much, R60 a bottle. 100% Pinot Noir.
Are you kidding?
The Hermit on the Hill wine itself reminded me of the words of the late Ronnie Melck of Muratie (SAΓò¼├┤Γö£├ºΓö£├╗s first Pinot Noir producer) who said: Γò¼├┤Γö£├ºΓö¼├║Daar is geen lekkerder kuiwerwyn as Pinot Noir nieΓò¼├┤Γö£├ºΓö¼├æ.
The subdued typical iron-and-cherry aroma from the glass struck me. I got more savoury notes with a hint of burnt autumnal leaves and a backbone of mushed red fruit. The sip was gorgeous from the first millilitre. Straight out of the bottle, no aeration, but the tannins were already bending over backwards allowing a torrent of scuffed leather, raspberry jam and fig-paste to gush to the fore. On the rear palate the grip was lean but haunting, immediately reminding me of a Blagny, one of the workhorse appellations of Burgundy.
But one canΓò¼├┤Γö£├ºΓö£├╗t get to the soul of this wine with terminology. It is a joyful ode to the pure, traditions of workmanlike wine-making. No reductive residues from over-complicated steel tanks. No brash over-aired pumping to unbalance the mouth-feel. In fact, it Hermit on the Hill was able to make this charming and quirky Pinot Noir in greater volumes, a seismic shift towards Pinot Noir away from Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon might just be instilled on the South African palate.
Producers like De Waal are a compliment to the South African landscape. They are the ones placing their balls on the line every year, trying things they like, in the hope that these preferences and passions may just hit a bull’s eye╬ô├╢┬╝Γö£├¡or two.
It hit this one, spot on.
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