Have you heard of Pinotage? This is South Africa’s signature grape, but it only accounts for six percent of the country’s wine grape production. Let’s explore this grape today. Thank you to Wine Folly and wine.co.za for their help with this article.
The History of Pinotage
Abraham Izak Perold, the very first Professor of Viticulture at the University of Stellenbosch, physically brushed a male Hermitage (Cinsaut) flower against a pollen donor Pinot Noir (also described as the Prince of French varietals.) These two grapes are very different from each other. So why did he combine the two? “The generally accepted theory is that he was trying to create a baby with the best characteristics of mum and dad – the classic Pinot taste of Burgundy with the easy-to-grow, disease-resistant quality of Cinsaut.” (wine.co.za) Pinot Noir struggled in South Africa’s climate. But we all know that Pinot Noir is a challenge to grow almost anywhere.
Perold created four seedlings, but he forgot about them when he moved to a different university. Thankfully, a young lecturer knew about the four seedlings and was able to save them when Perold’s old nursery was being torn down.
The seedlings spent another seven years being ignored – until Perold came back for a visit and was reminded of his seedlings. He got excited and wanted to start growing them immediately.
This is when the name Pinotage was created.
The first casks of the wine were made in 1941.
What Does Pinotage Taste Like?
Some people think of Pinotage as a poor person’s Pinot Noir. But the two grapes are actually quite distinct.
According to Wine Folly, the South African grape looks and tastes more like Shiraz. The Pinotage grapes were extremely dark in color (different from both its parents), and the wine was bold and high in tannin. Pinot Noir is very low in tannin. “Pinotage is dense in color and bold in flavor with notes of plum sauce, tobacco, blackberry, tar and licorice.”
Pinotage is such a productive, volatile grape that there is plenty of good wines along with plenty of bad wines. Wine Folly says that “when it’s bad, it will smell very pungent and sharp, almost like nail polish remover.” When it’s good, you get “amazing red fruit flavors of raspberry, red licorice and even red bell pepper.”
South African Wine Style
Serious Eats says that “South African wines straddle Old World and New: the wines often smell of ripe, silky fruit, but showcase earthy flavors and finish with restraint. Because of the generally warm climate, South Africa’s red grapes in particular get very ripe and produce full, high-alcohol wines. But especially in the Western Cape, the cool ocean breezes help the wines retain the bright acidity that keeps things fresh and food-friendly.”
Are you a Pinotage fan?