Pinotage is a proudly South African wine that is counted among the best in the world. The man behind this famous varietal is Cape-born Abraham Izak Perold, who was the first Professor of Viticulture at Stellenbosch University.
During the 1920’s Perold experimented with crossing various grape varieties. The decision to cross haughty Pinot Noir with humble Hermitage was a strange choice, but Perold left no explanation. He planted just four seeds in the garden of his official residence at the Welgevallen Experimental farm.
Two years later, Perold took up a position with KWV and relocated to Paarl. His four seedlings remained, seemingly forgotten.
In a curious twist of fate, Dr. Charlie Niehaus (who happened to be just passing by) saved Perold’s four seedlings from being chucked away by university gardeners intent on clearing the overgrown garden of the former Perold homestead.
The four Pinotage seedlings were planted on the grounds of the Elsenburg Agricultural Academy outside Stellenbosch, where pioneering farmers later obtained plant material for experimental winemaking purposes.
The first farms to plant Pinotage vines were the estates of Bellevue and Kanonkop, both of whom are still recognized today as renowned Pinotage producers.
It was grapes from Bellevue that were used to create the famed Lanzerac Pinotage, champion wine at the Cape Wine Show of 1959 and the first commercial bottling. This early success and easy viticulture prompted a wave of commercial planting in the 1960’s.
Despite the reputation for easy cultivation, Pinotage has not escaped criticism. During the 1980’s when the wine industry boomed, Pinotage struggled to hold its own as a good wine. Common complaints included that of “a paint smell”.
In 1991 Beyers Truter (Beyerskloof) was crowned Best Winemaker in the World at the International Wine Challenge in London for Kanonkop Pinotage 1989, but there remains a segment of South African Winemakers who believe that Pinotage has no place in a vineyard.
It has been suggested that this disdain for Pinotage stems from the fact that it’s a distinctly New World Wine while the South African wine trend is to reflect more European influences and flavours.
Pinotage may be a very young varietal at just 50 years of age, but it is recognized as South Africa’s greatest contribution towards international wine culture.
What should you expect in a good Pinotage? Good depth of flavour, which could include the following tastes: Banana, dried fruits, malt, vegetable oil, herbs, blackcurrant and custard.
The texture is velvety and the overall impression is one of a unique, fruity and refreshing wine that compliments food from venison to far-eastern cuisine.
Of course, the most important reason to drink Pinotage is because it is enjoyable. It is also uniquely South African. So raise your glass of Pinotage and toast the unconventional!
“Pinotage could not have found a better home than South Africa. The grape is just as opinionated, thick-skinned and full of nonsense as a true South African!”
Beyers Truter from Beyerskloof - Arguably the world’s foremost Pinotage expert.
My personal favourite (by far and wide) is the popular Diemersfontein Coffee Chocolate Pinotage. Since 2001, Diemersfontein Winery’s accessible flagship Pinotage has taken the world by storm. It appeals to new drinkers who have not until then, been red wine enthusiasts. And yet many experienced wine drinkers are easily seduced by it’s vivacity.
Go check out the best party in the winelands calendar: Diemersfontein’s Pinotage-on-Tap!
For further reading on Pinotage, it’s history, merits and recognition; visit the Pinotage Association at www.pinotage.co.za