South Africa’s very own
Pinotage is the successful crossing of Cinsaut & Pinot Noir, developed in South Africa all the way back 1925 by scientist Abraham Perold in his garden. He wanted to create a wine that was luscious like Pinot Noir but hardy like Cinsault (aka Hermitage, hence Pinot-Tage) after observing that his Pinot Noir struggled a little in the South African climate. And with that, the humble Pinotage was born. The results, however, were nothing like the parent varietals. The extremely dark coloured grapes resulted in bold, deep and very tannic wines, but after many years of development it’s now the second most planted variety in South Africa.
Pinotage had a bad rep.
For quite some time Pinotage had a poor reputation internationally. As a variety, Pinotage is a very productive grape, producing high yields. This enabled some producers to make very low quality and commercially led wines on a massive scale. Due to it's thick skins Pinotage can produce very inky young wines, so producers were able to push out lots of bottles from pressing the grapes multiple times resulting in thinner, duller wines. It took them some time to learn that Pinotage is a challenging wine to make well.
The future of Pinotage
These day’s South Africa is producing some very high quality Pinotage in a number of regions. But it took a number of producers to come together and work out that by reducing crop yields and the use of careful & modern winemaking techniques they were able to make wines of distinction, thus putting Pinotage on the list of quality wines. The wines vary in style, but are often very dark in colour and bold in flavour, with notes of plum, blackberry, warm spices and a smoky feel about them. Some of the great bottles even have notes of sweet tobacco, rooibos, dark chocolate (the 70% cocoa stuff) and even plum sauce.
Clocking a bad bottle
Pinotage is a hardy grape but can change rapidly during vinification. A not so good wine will have a noticeable sharp aroma to it. This indicates a high level of acetic acid, which no one wants. But if the wine has a burnt caramel/tar smell to it, this could well mean that the wine has had too long a maceration with the skins and pips in the vat, and is often referred to as “over-extracted". Luckily, this is becoming rarer all the time.
Either way, we love Pinotage and have had some brilliant ones pass through the shop. For an introduction to Pinotage, our Simonsvlei Premier Selection is great value, or try the rather more serious Kanonkop Kadette for something a bit more intense. If you’re a fan of the bold reds in autumn by the fire, Pinotage is well worth considering with its rich flavours and warm feel.