If you haven’t enjoyed a glass of good Pinotage ̶ a cross between Cinsaut and Pinot Noir grapes ̶ the burning question is, what’s taken you so long?
South Africa’s signature grape, Pinotage is a bold dry red wine with a deep maroon colour and its pairs perfectly with summertime barbecued meat as it can stand up to strong and spicy flavours.
What Is Pinotage Wine?
Pinotage was first crossed in South Africa in 1925 by scientist Abraham Perold. Perold noticed how Pinot Noir struggled in South Africa’s climate, so he crossed them with a very productive species, Cinsaut. Perold’s goal was to create a wine that was as delicious as Pinot Noir but thrived and grew as easily as Cinsaut.
The resulting pinotage grape is so dark it is almost black. It grows well in South Africa’s Cape region of winter rainfall and dry hot summers. Pinotage grows best in deep soil with good water retention and as bush vines on sunny slopes, which need careful tending.
It is not grown widely elsewhere with small plantings in Israel, New Zealand and California.
How Is Pinotage Wine Made?
Pinotage wine is naturally high in tannins which can be subdued with limited maceration time. Maceration is the winemaking process in which tannins, colouring agents and flavour compounds are leached from the grape skins, seeds and stems into the must.
The most natural way of making wine is to add yeast, letting it ferment over time. For red wines, carbon dioxide is released, and it is usually fermented in warmer temperatures compared to whites. The red winemaking process usually continues until all the sugar is converted into alcohol, producing a dry wine.
Some winemakers have experimented with letting the grapes get very ripe before harvesting followed by limited oak exposure as another means of taming the unwanted characteristics of the grape. In recent years South African winemakers have experimented with producing Pinotage in a lighter style, picking grapes earlier for lower sugar and using whole bunches in fermentation to increase the acidity, a style of winemaking similar to the parent grape Pinot Noir.
Let’s move on to just how Pinotage tastes?
What Does Pinotage Wine Taste Like?
Pinotage has not always had a good reputation, hitting an all-time low in the early 1980s. But determined South African winemakers pushed back and have reversed this trend with thoughtful vinicultural and winemaking processes.
High-quality vintages are notable for a floral, earthy nose with juicy dark and red fruit flavours like black plum, cherry, and raspberry. The best examples are balanced and relatively low in acid with a lasting sweet and smoky finish. In very good Pinotages, you may even find notes of oak, red pepper and liquorice. Sounds delicious so let’s dive in and taste some!
How Do You Drink Pinotage Wine?
Tasting the second most planted grape in South Africa can be as relaxed and friendly as the people of its home. Pinotage has been described as a rustic red wine that is earthy but fruit-driven and perfect for pairing with strong smokey grilled meats. It does have slightly higher levels of alcohol for a red wine.
A simple guide to drinking Pinotage in 3 easy steps would be to:
- Take a good look at the wine, examining the colour and opacity through the glass.
- Next is that all-important aroma. Swirl your glass for 10 seconds and take a quick whiff. Then stick your nose into the wine glass for a deep inhale, noting your first impressions of the wine.
- Lastly taste the wine by taking a small sip and letting it roll around your mouth. Note the acidity, sugar, tannins, and alcohol content when first tasting, then move on to notes such as berries, spice, and wood before noting the lasting finish.
One of the best things about drinking Pinotage is the food pairings as it’s such a versatile and bold wine.
What food do you pair Pinotage wine with?
We’ve already mentioned how Pinotage is good for pairing with barbecued meats. Also worthy of trying is serving it with wild game meats such as venison, barbecued short ribs and even some of the strong and spicy sausages from around the world. Think chorizo, salami, andouille and other charcuterie.
It’s also good with steaks and burgers and the better vintages even pair well with chocolate desserts.
So now that we’ve introduced you to the merits of this plucky grape, is it expensive you ask and where can you get some?
Your average cost for a bottle of red wine in Britain is anything from £8-10 to the stratospheric for very special vintages. Wine is expensive in the UK compared to other European countries. It also depends where one is buying in UK cities. Birmingham came out as the cheapest city to buy wine at £6 a bottle whereas Cardiff in Wales was the most expensive at £13 in a 2020 poll.
Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, Majestic Wine and SA House of Wine would probably be your best bet in the UK.
What Is Pinotage Wine Similar To?
The name Pinotage is a bit misleading as it sounds like Pinot Noir. But don’t assume they taste the same. Pinotage looks and tastes more like Shiraz even though Pinotage is technically related to Pinot Noir.
Earlier we briefly referred to Pinotage’s negative qualities, such as some likening it to nail polish remover. This was before South African Pinotage winemakers banded together to improve methods and developed the grape’s better qualities in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Following the lifting of sanctions imposed during apartheid in the 1990s, the focus has been on quality rather than quantity. The establishment of the South African Pinotage Association in 1995 consisting of a group of producers who seek out to champion the variety also made a big difference to the fortunes of Pinotage.
These days we are spoilt for choice with the Pinotages available in retail outlets. Go on, give Pinotage a whirl. You won’t be sorry. Even Decanter has been singing the praises of this red wine!