South Africa’s gift to the world of wine

Whether you prefer your pinotage old school bold and bright or new age choco-mocha, raise a glass to this unique African varietal on the first ever National Pinotage Day, Saturday, 10 October 2015.

The real McCoy of South African wines. Pinotage has had its trials and tribulations but is well supported locally, with a large increase in plantings over the past couple of years. Having sat on the Pinotage Blends (red blends with a minimum of 30% pinotage) judging panel for 3 years, I have a soft spot for this grape and a strong belief in its future.

When Professor Abraham Perold from Stellenbosch University crossed a somewhat unusual pair, Pinot Noir with Cinsaut in 1925, he literally created South Africa’s national grape. His aim was to combine the virtues of the two grapes. Pinot Noir is renowned for its aromas and flavours but can be difficult to grow, whereas Cinsaut yields an abundant crop and is cheerfully resistant to disease. It appears Cinsaut dominated, as pinotage is easy to grow and ripens readily. In fact, keeping yields down is a major challenge in making a quality wine from pinotage.

A slow starter, the varietal only appeared commercially in the early 1960s and attracted international interest in 1991 when winemaker Beyers Truter entered a pinotage in the International Wine and Spirit Competition. He was named "Winemaker of the Year”, the first South African to ever be bestowed this honour.

Pinotage presents in a dramatic range of styles, from a fairly light-bodied, red berry-driven wine to a full-bodied wine with balance, elegance, rounded fruit flavours and an enduring finish. In general, pinotage tends to take on a rustic profile and often shows earth-driven notes, followed by dark fruit, tobacco, chocolate or even smoky bacon kips. The best will age elegantly without losing their muscularity. Pinotage producers recently developed mocha and chocolate-flavoured wines, often scoffed at by the old guard, but it has enticed a range of new consumers into the wine drinking market.

Pinotage and food pairings are quite diverse. From robust and rustic dishes like smoked duck, pulled pork, chilli con carne or potjie, to light charcuterie, pâtés and baked pasta dishes like lasagne or pizza, particularly one with a meaty topping. Its slight perceived sweetness also makes it a good match for hard cheeses like cheddar or blue but it shines brightest with a classic South African braai.

Picture Credit: Beyerskloof Wine Estate