Neil Ellis & Pinotage (South Africa)

Neil Ellis came to Portalis for a tasting in the summer of 2009.  Warm weather, though, is not when we sell Pinotage and a visit from a winemaker of this magnitude merited its proper spot in the featured lineup, with the proper spot being deepest winter … so here we go:

We are always delighted to have winemakers in for tastings, but this was a special one & we were all solemn with excitement. (Can that be?)  We had sold thousands of glass pours of Neil Ellis Pinotage and along with a hard core following of customers who love this wine, we were so excited that we were a little nervous.  And rightly so.  Mr. Ellis was not that jokey-jokerton, engagingly accented funny story-teller from former British colonies who often shows up (much to our delight, I might add).  He was a solemn, professorial man, with a lovely, understated sense of humor, who sat on a stool with the tasting participants around him and modestly shared his history (starting out with KWV, a huge South African wine co-operative, with stints at the Groot Constantia Estate & Zevenwacht, before striking out on his own in 1986 & making a name for himself as the rogue, entrepreneurial producer he has become) as well as his philosophy on wine, wine production & the role of wine in life.

Pinotage is just one of many wines in Neil Ellis’ lineup, but it’s one of our favorites and is excellent Pinotage for the money. Pinotage has an unusual history.  It’s a cross between Pinot Noir & Cinsault, grown as an experiment at the University of Stellenbosch in the 1930’s, forgotten & then rediscovered later in an overgrown patch of vines.  It’s known for its dark brambly fruit with notes of smoke and even bacony flavors.  Wine from this grape makes a statement & customers tend to really like it or really not like it.  The likes win by far, and Pinotage at Portalis has a sizeable fan club with Jens leading the charge (he loves this grape!).  So if you’ve never tried it & are open to this style wine, go exploring.  Neil Ellis was European in his belief that food belongs with wine and every meal is enhanced by a well-paired combination of the two.  Pinotage pairs beautifully with all kinds of grilled red meats & game.  It’s a lovely sipper, though, too.  And with evenings by the fire in front of us, we highly this wine.

Neil Ellis Pinotage is solid year after year and is excellent wine for the price.  Jens is also a big fan of Southern Right Pinotage (a little bigger fruit) & the Kanonkop which is a huge wine made from old vines, but also commands a higher price:

Neil Ellis 2008 Pinotage  (Stellenbosch)
$21.99  | Mixed Case $17.59
Spice Route 2007 Pinotage (Swartland)
$21.99  | Mixed Case $17.59
Southern Right 2007 Pinotage (Walker Bay)
$24.99 | Mixed Case $19.99  
Kanonkop 2005 Pinotage (Stellenbosch)
$37.99  | Mixed Case $30.39

Pinotage Blends (with Cab Sauv/Merlot combinations):
Kanonkop 2006 Kadette  (Stellenbosch)
$17.50 | Mixed Case $14
Warwick 2005 Three Cape Ladies (Stellenbosch)
$27.99 | INSIDER $22.99 | Mixed Case $18.39   
Spice Route 2004 Malabar (Swartland)
$73.99 | Mixed Case $59.19  

Enjoy & cheers!