Pinotage Grape: A Unique Expression of South African Terroir
The Pinotage grape, a distinctive red wine varietal born from South African soil, is a testament to the country’s rich winemaking history and the spirit of experimentation. It was initially created in the early 20th century through the ingenuity of Abraham Izak Perold, a professor at the University of Stellenbosch. Professor Perold crossed Pinot Noir and Cinsault grapes, creating the Pinotage grape, a symbol of South African viticulture, carving a unique niche in the global wine scene.
In 1925, Professor Perold, a viticulturist at the University, sought to overcome the challenges posed by the South African climate and soil conditions. His experimentation led to the crossbreeding of Pinot Noir and Cinsault, resulting in a grape that combined the elegance of Pinot Noir with the robustness of Cinsault. Originally known as “Hermitage x Pinot,” the grape later took on the portmanteau “Pinotage.” The name “Pinotage” encapsulates the grape’s lineage, with “Pinot” representing Pinot Noir and “age” derived from Hermitage (the local name for Cinsault). This nomenclature reflects the grape’s genetic makeup and the fusion of Old World and New World characteristics, making it uniquely South African.
Pinotage grapes are distinguishable by their deep red color and medium to large clusters. The wine produced from Pinotage grapes is known for its complex flavors, which include red and black fruits, intriguing notes of earthiness and smoke, and hints of game. High tannin levels contribute to the wine’s structure, making it a bold and full-bodied expression of the South African terroir. While grown in various South African regions, the Pinotage has found a particularly strong home in Stellenbosch and the Cape Winelands. These regions provide diverse terroirs that influence the grape’s characteristics, resulting in various Pinotage styles. The vine’s adaptability to different soils and climates has allowed winemakers to explore its potential in various wine-growing areas.
Over the years, Pinotage has evolved from a curiosity to a cornerstone of South African winemaking. Initially, the grape faced skepticism and polarized opinions due to its bold and distinct profile. However, South African winemakers have embraced the challenge, refining their techniques to produce Pinotage wines that showcase the grape’s potential for elegance and complexity—resulting in the Pinotage becoming a canvas for winemakers, allowing them to experiment with different winemaking styles. Some producers highlight the grape’s fruit-forward characteristics, while others embrace the smoky, earthy, and gamey notes that make Pinotage stand out. The versatility of this grape has contributed to its enduring appeal, attracting local and international enthusiasts.
The Pinotage grape is a testament to South Africa’s ability to create distinctive and unique wines. From its humble origins in a Stellenbosch university garden to its status as a symbol of South African viticulture, Pinotage has journeyed a long way. It continues to evolve today, reflecting the creativity and passion of winemakers who strive to unlock its full potential.
With notes of black fruit, mint, and game, the Pinotage pairs well with a variety of dishes. For a full bodied, mature Pinotage, pair with heartier dishes such as grilled and smoked meats and BBQ, if your Pinotage is more earthy then a dish with mushrooms, pork, or duck will be a great choice, or even a pepperoni pizza the easy-drinking, “I don’t want to think about it”, style of pairing.
Merwida, Papenkuils Vlei Vygie 2022 (Rosé)
Soft berry pomegranate, cranberry, and cream
Durbanville Hills, Collectors Reserve The Promenade Pinotage, Durbanville 2021
Earthy beetroot, blueberry, dark plums, and smokey unes with a hint of vanilla
The Mentors, Perold 2020
Dark fruit, baking spices, and chocolate.
MAN Family Wines Bosstok 2020
Rose, cherries, dark berries, with hint of banilla and smoke
Be sure to watch where you buy your wines for the South African Pinotage wine.