Iona Estate, Limited Release Pinot Noir 2012, South Africa
In important and very real ways, South Africa's winemaking history is one of the youngest on the planet. A modern industry emerged only with the fall of the apartheid regime. That was a mere 24 years ago, and it is fair to say that over the decades since South Africa's industry has been unusually dynamic. From plantings of new grape varieties to breaking virgin ground in brand new growing regions, the industry is being re-shaped and re-defined. There has been - and continues to be - a drive to refine the wine industry and establish South Africa's place on the world stage.
So, a very young industry that is developing, exploring and maturing. With that comes growing pains: echoing cycles that Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina have already gone, or are going through, South Africa is only now learning from its mistakes, pushing into new territories, really understanding its soils and mapping its grapes to its many terroirs.
It has been fascinating to watch the development of the Elgin Valley since my first visit there in 2005, when there were only three estates. This cool apple and pear-growing area still boasts as many orchards as vineyards, but returning in 2014 it was clear that energy levels remain high in this valley where the average age of its wine estates is only around three years. With vineyards running from 300 to close on 500 metres in elevation, this is true cooler climate country where varieties like Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir flourish. Now there are more than 20 estates here, many of which have already carved international reputations for quality.
Undoubtedly one of its star estates of Elgin is Iona, where winemaker Andrew Gunn fashions very pure, very elegant wines. This Pinot Noir is still essentially experimental, the first vintage being released only in 2009, but it is typically Iona, all about lightness and gracefulness rather than density or power. The colour is a pale, almost transparent ruby, with soft and autumnal aromas, briar and truffle melting into cherry and redcurrant. It flirts with floral and mineral characters, and seems barely extracted at all. On the palate it is light, keen and juicy, the oak terribly discreet, allowing the gentle beetroot and mushroom notes to play alongside the red berries, the acid and tannin structure is gentle but decisive, to give this wine some spice and excellent length too. A lovely Pinot this, genuinely in a Burgundian mould, and not for those who seek 'bigness' in their Pinots.
A single bottle of the Iona Estate Pinot Noir costs £15.99 from Harrogate Fine Wine, though it is also available at £16.50 from The Wine Society. There is a list of any other current stockists on wine-searcher.