Last month I had a little gripe about how most wine-drinkers walk swiftly past those gorgeous Rieslings which the wine trade love to love.
The situation is very much reversed when it comes to Pinotage. Consumers have no hang-ups whatever about buying wines from this grape variety whereas the trade on the other hand gets a little sniffy about it and has struggled to develop an adoring bond with it. Guilty as charged. Until now. I had my epiphany moment recently at a wine matching dinner where I had paired Cloof Pinotage, from Churchill Vintners, with Sizzling Beef Cantonese style and what a match it was.
Pinotage was developed in South Africa in 1927 by Professor Perold who crossed Pinot Noir with Cinsault (called Hermitage in South Africa at the time which makes sense of the name of the new grape), planted 4 seeds and then promptly forgot about them. They were rescued by a colleague and together he and Perold propagated the seedlings so that by 1943 there were wines made from this hybrid grape. Interestingly though, the first mention of Pinotage on a label was only in 1961 with Lanzerac’s 1959 vintage. It is now rightly regarded as South Africa’s very own; sometimes even its signature grape.
So what has changed my opinion of this grape so often criticised by my colleagues. Oh, alright also occasionally by me. Tasting and drinking them, it’s as simple as that! I’ve stopped being surprised at how pleasantly surprised I am when enjoying a Pinotage. I may be late to the party but I realise now they are mostly delicious. Far less frequently will you find that rubbery aroma that so turned-off the ‘experts’ (but actually didn’t bother you, the consumer); way more often you’ll discover black cherry, bramble, clove and possibly the more unusual (for wine, at least) aromas of banana. Unusual though, doesn’t make it wrong, just different. The wines can be relatively light, juicy and for drinking young or they can be dark and intense with the potential to age.
With it still being very new in wine-making history, a mere 55 years old in commercial wine, growers and wine-makers are still learning and experimenting with Pinotage but recently there seems to have been a corner turned. There is an understanding by the producers as to what causes the wine to give the unpleasant aromas or bitter taste –problems such as lack of water or too much heat – and there is on-going research at the University of Stellenbosch into diseases which affect the variety and why.
Much of this progressive work has been led by the Pinotage Association which has a useful website where you can learn who is winning the top awards for their wines. www.pinotage.co.za. Reliably safe names though are Beyerskloof (Beyers Truter is regarded as the daddy of Pinotage wine-making and founded the association), Kanonkop, Simonsig or Rijk’s among others.
You won’t only find Pinotage as a single variety on a wine label or just from South Africa: it is also always present in wine labelled as a Cape Blend, making up anywhere between 30% and 70% of the varieties used. And it is now also planted in California, New Zealand and Brazil; even too in Canada, Zimbabwe and Israel.
I no longer wander quickly past these palatable Pinotages; you were right all along, it definitely is a wine to pop in my trolley.
To win yourself a couple of bottles of Cloof Pinotage please answer the following question:
Pinotage is a cross of Cinsault with which other grape variety:
- A) Cabernet Sauvignon
- B) Pinot Noir
- c) Grenache
Send your answer to email@example.com by 30th April, 2015 .
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For wine advice, tastings and courses email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website www.bywine.co.uk See Laura present in the Wine Theatre at the Foodies Festival in Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham 15th-17th May.