South Africa has been producing wines for the past 200 years. But having been ignored by the world’s wine market in the recent past due to apartheid, a boom is now under way. With the removal of trade sanctions came the opening up of new markets, so many South African wines have become fashionable. Investments are being made both in the planting of new vineyards, and the installation of hi-tech stainless steel wineries.
The climate makes it an ideal place to cultivate grapes with its fine and varied soils on terrific, easy to cultivate mountain slopes. Many vineyards are producing excellent quality wines for the world market, and one of these red wines is the Pinotage.
Pinotage: Pinot Noir x Cinsault
The Pinotage grape variety was bred in 1925 by Professor A I Peroldt of Stellenbosch University. Pinot Noir which makes the classic highly-prized wines of Burgundy was crossed with Cinsault, a prolific cropper that makes relatively undistinguished wines in the south of France. Cinsault’s common, if misleading, Cape synonym Hermitage inspired the third syllable. Both varieties are of the same genus vitis vinifera.
- Pinot Noir is very difficult to grow successfully.
- Cinsault is hardy and resistant to most vine ailments.
It was hoped, by crossing these two, that the new variety would gain the good points of both parents: classic Pinot Noir taste with a large crop from easy-growing vines. However, results did not always turn out as expected with initial tastings not sufficiently impressive, so Pinotage was largely ignored until 1961.
Pinotage wine revival
The revival began thanks largely to Beyers Truter who made his reputation as a winemaker at Kanonkop Estate in the 1980s. His championing of the variety led to international recognition at England’s 1991 International Wine and Spirit Competition. These wines so impressed the judges that he was awarded the Robert Mondavi Trophy as the International Winemaker of the Year – becoming the first South African to win this accolade.
Pinotage gained international attention, and wine drinkers keen to enjoy a new taste, sought out the unique wine. This prompted the price of Pinotage grapes to shoot up 500% by 1995. It was now that winemakers started taking the wine seriously, and many invested in the finest quality French oak barrels to age it.
*The Pinotage Association was formed, and an annual Pinotage Top 10 competition began.
Judges comments about the wines:
“I think the rest of the world must discover these wines and South Africans must be very proud of it. The balance of fruit, elegance and good integration of tannins is an indication of the talent of South Africa’s viticulturists and winemakers. They made it very difficult for us to select only the top ten.”
Julian Brind – British Master of Wine.
“People think there is only one kind of Pinotage, but the variety of styles makes it a real tasting experience, but every wine still is a Pinotage. A few years ago, it was my opinion that you could only select the top five to seven out of all the entries, now it is difficult to select the top fifteen. The quality and fine balance of the wines improve year after year.”
Dave Hughes – South Africa’s international wine expert.
- Styles of wines vary from smooth to rough textured. Although it benefits from maturing, it is not often allowed to age.
- The wine characteristics are a spicy, peppery flavour with hint of bananas and other red fruits.
- The words “bush-vine” on a South African label indicates that the vines are old, as only recently Pinotage was thought worthy of the expense of trellising.
- Pinotage is not unique to South Africa. It is made in neighbouring Zimbabwe and also widely planted in New Zealand.
Some of top Pinotage Wine Estates:
Kanonkop, Simonsig, Warwick, Camberley, Stellenzicht and Clos Malverne
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by Rob Hemphill