Pinotage: Wine Basics

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This South African hearty red wine was created in 1925. It is a cross between Cinsault and Pinot Noir. The primary flavors are black cherry, blackberry, fig, and menthol. It’s a dry wine with a full-body, high in alcohol at 15% ABV (alcohol by volume), and has medium to high tannins.

It’s interesting to note that Pinotage is bolder than both its predecessors. With its low acidity, it pairs well with flavorful sauces such as plum sauce and barbeque. The commercially-produced, lower-quality bottles often have the unpleasant aroma of nail polish remover.

Related: Puligny-Montrachet: Wine Guide

Wine Description

Color

It is a deep inky red color. Although the wine is directly related to Pinot Noir, whose color is a pale red, Pinotage is an extremely dark grape. In fact, this South African grape looks more like Shiraz than Pinot Noir.

Pinotage has a deep and inky red color even though it is made of pinot noir.

Nose

It has notes of tobacco, plum sauce, blackberry, tar, and licorice on the nose. Other aromas used to describe it include dried leaves, bacon, and sweet pipe tobacco.

Taste

The tannins in the pinotage will be bold but will have a sweet note on the finish. The grape is typically high in pH (low acidity), so many winemakers will add in acid early in the fermentation process to ensure more balanced acidity.

The “bad” Pinotage or commercially-produced versions will have a sharp smell and will taste like burnt tar. If the wine has spent too long on the skins and seeds during the winemaking process, you can expect a bad experience with this unique grape.

Fortunately, producers have solved many of these issues with careful winemaking techniques used to manage this grape.

Region

The grape is a crossing of Cinsaut and Pinot Noir that was first crossed in South Africa in the gardens of scientist Abraham Perold. He observed how Pinot Noir struggled with South Africa’s climate, so he crossed them with a very productive species: Cinsaut (also called Hermitage).

It was first cultivated in Stellenbosch, a productive wine region in South Africa’s Western Cape region, and is still primarily grown there.

Stellenbosch vineyards are the primary creators of pinotage

Grapes

As mentioned above, the grape is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut. The result of the crossing was unexpected since what emerged was an extremely dark in color grape.

The wine is bold and high in tannin and anthocyanin. This wine went on to be the second most planted grape in South Africa.

Cinsaut originated in France and was often used as a blending grape due to its ability to add softness and bouquet. In South Africa, it is known as “Hermitage,” hence the name Pinotage.

Cinsault and pinotage grapes are crossed
Photo credits to the Local Food Initiative

Process

Abraham Perold was the viticulturist that developed by crossing the two grapes. His original goal was to create a grape as delicious as Pinot Noir but that grew as well as Cinsaut. The wine that was created was inky in color and higher in tannin than expected.

Winemakers soon learned that this wine is tricky to make. Because it was such a productive grape, producers began to make low-quality commercial wine with it.

In the last 15 years, producers have focused on reducing the crop yields and using specified winemaking techniques to improve the quality.

Food Pairings

This wine is very barbeque-friendly. It is delicious with roasted meats and vegetables topped with flavorful sauces such as teriyaki.

You can always take a cue from the sort of ingredients and dishes that go well with the wine’s ancestors, Cinsaut and Pinot Noir.

Dishes such as smoked duck and pulled pork are popular pairings. It’s also great to serve with pizza, especially one with a meaty topping.

Try it Out

Top examples

Barista pinotage is our top example to try out.

Barista: This highly-rated wine is robust with a sultry personality. From the Cape, South Africa, it is deep red with rich coffee and chocolate aromas and smoky with ripe nuances of mulberry, plum, and maraschino cherries.

The complexity is unique, and it’s definitely not your run-of-the-mill red!

Spier 21 Gables Pinotage, 2016: This Pinotage boasts a score of 92 from Wine Enthusiast Magazine. It is produced in Stellenbosch, South Africa. On the nose, you will smell abundant fruity aromas of black boysenberry and cherry.  You will also smell licorice, espresso bean, and charred oak. The palate again boasts dark-fruit flavors that are plush and structured tannins.

Good Values

Spier Pinotage: In this one, you will smell mouth-watering juicy plum and sweet fruit aromas that are complemented by hints of tobacco. On the palate, mouth-filling cherry and tobacco flavors are soft and accessible with a lingering finish. It is aged ten months in oak.

Southern Right Pinotage 2019: Southern Right is re-defining Pinotage with this intense classically styled, clay-grown wine, packed with complex berry fruit, beautiful tannins, and subtle spice. Full ripeness and the longer hang-time afforded by cooler sites, combined with the complex, more classic fruit aromas and structure resulting from clay-rich soil, make it a highly individual expression of South Africa’s unique grape variety.

Ideal Stemware

Bordeaux glasses with their large openings are ideal for pinotage.

A red wine glass with a wide opening is the ideal stemware for it. The choice of a wide opening has a lot to do with the ability of the glass to migrate the bitterness of the tannins to deliver a smoother taste.

You might want to consider using a Bordeaux glass. The larger glass also tends to allow the ethanol to evaporate.

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Susan Connolly

Susan is a sommelier that wears many hats. She is a wine consultant, writer, instructor, and even has her own online course! Her love for it spills out in her knowledge about in all things related to the topic!

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