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south african wine, part 12

Scali, Schoone Oord, Voor-Paardeberg, South Africa
Tel: +27 21 869 8340, Fax: +27 21 869 8383
Email: info@scali.co.za

On to the wines of Tania and Willi de Waal (above), with their boutique Scali operation. They’re fifth generation grape growers on the Schoone Ord farm in Paardeberg. They began making wine in 1993, with just 50 litres; in 1997  they made a whole barrel of Pinotage, and in 1999 they scaled up to 20 barrels, which I guess you could say is their first proper vintage. The name Scali comes from the Afrikaans for shale, the predominant soil type here. As well as making Pinotage, they also produce a Syrah.

Winemaking is as simple as it comes here; most of the effort takes place in the vineyard to get the grapes just right. The grapes are harvested into 10 kg crates, cooled overnight, crushed and destemmed into open fermenters, and then given a week’s prefermentation maceration at low temperatures with a carbon dioxide blanket. Fermentation is natural or inoculated, with regular pigeage, with some post-ferment maceration. The wine is then basket pressed into barriques where the malolactic fermentation completes.

Tasting the Scali wines was a bit of an eye-opener for me. It’s not just that they’re very good; it was also that this was the first time I’ve tried a Pinotage that I’ve really liked. I admit it, I’d become biased against this grape. I’ve drunk a lot of Pinotage, and I’ve tried as hard as possible to keep an open mind about it. But a succession of disappointments had led me to question whether there was any merit in this grape at all, other than for making large volumes of gluggable, plummy, juicy inexpensive quaffing wine.

‘The problem with Pinotage is the viticulture’, says Willi de Waal. ‘The difficulty is that there is often underripe fruit and overripe fruit together, along with overcropping’. This leads to bitterness and greenness alongside very sweet fruit flavours in the same wine. Not nice. Willi adds that, ‘it’s a variety that we don’t understand fully.’

Eben Sadie, who was also at the dinner, agrees. ‘It’s a complex grape that is often misunderstood’, says Eben. His point is that the bad examples of Pinotage, which predominate, are giving the variety a bad name and jeopardising its future. ‘We are destroying a unique grape.’ The danger is that people aren’t forgiving and patient enough, and won’t allow South African winemakers to really work out how to manage Pinotage properly.

‘The old world had the privilege of working out which grapes grew best where at a time when things were less structured. The Italians could find their rhythm with Sangiovese and the Spanish could find their rhythm with tempranillo,’ says Eben. ‘We have only had 12 years to reinvent a grape because of sanctions.’ 

The farm, early evening

Scali Pinotage 2003 Paardeberg
An utterly fantastic Pinotage: I didn’t think I’d find myself saying this. It has dark, lush, spicy fruit with lovely freshness. Clean and expressive. The palate is expressive with fine yet firm tannins and nice structure. Slightly drying tannins on the finish, but it’s a fantastic effort. Very good/excellent 93/100

Scali Syrah 2003 Paardeberg
Fantasic nose: dark, smooth and quite seamless with a lovely freshness together with a liqueur-like smoothness and sweetness. The palate is concentrated and bold with lovely tight spicy structure. There’s some nice spiciness and earthiness. Lovely complexity here: a brilliant example of Syrah combining richness with expression. Very good/excellent 94/100

In the UK, these wines have been available in the past from Oddbins – you might still find some if you hunt around.

Wines tasted 12/05
Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

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