Wine Profile: Pinotage

Back in the 1920s applying science to agriculture was all the rage and Pinotage, a hybrid of Pinot Noir and Cinsault (known in South Africa as Hermitage, hence the portmanteau name), was the product of one such union. Its creators were hoping for a wine with the hardiness and yield of Cinsault, combined with the subtle, delicate flavour of Pinot Noir. They got the high yield, but in every other regard Pinotage was a disappointment.

Pinotage bottle
In New Zealand Kumala markets a popular range of low to mid-priced South African wines, including Pinotage and Pinotage blends.

Extremely dark, but lacking the full body of Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz, Pinotage was and is tannic to the point where poorly-made Pinotage can turn your mouth into the Sahara without too much difficulty. But its yield in a difficult climate was its saving grace, and the South Africans are nothing if not tenacious. After a difficult period where mass-produced and poorly-made Pinotage languished at the bottom of the wine market, Pinotage is coming into its own and is well worth trying out. In addition, it is often successfully blended with other red wines, lightening them and adding its own distinct flavour.

Pinotage is a light-bodied red wine, typically brick red or garnet red in colour. As stated above it tends to be quite aggressively tannic, with notes of raspberry, blueberry, liquorice and tobacco, and can be quite a savoury wine with an unusual smoky/sweet kick.

Light, tannic, smoky-sweet-savoury: you’d think Pinotage would be a hard wine to find a match for, but its ability to stand up for itself makes it quite easy. Pair it with something bold, something spicy, and you’re away. When I visited Ascension Wine Estate, which specialises in boutique wines including Pinotage, I paired it with a spicy salami pizza and it worked perfectly. I’m told it’s also great with barbeques, and I can believe it. Cheese and strongly-flavoured antipasto dishes like olives and peppers would probably also be a success, and those mouth-puckering tannins are a great balance to greasy or oily foods (like pizza).

Pinotage has a typical ABV of around 14% and should be served lightly chilled at around 11C-15C.

A medium-priced bottle of Pinotage can be aged for up to five years, while a fine bottle could last ten or more, although you might have to shop around to find it: outside of its native South Africa it’s still catching on. As always, if you’re planning on aging wine it is wise to check the vintage first and take that into account when calculating your storage time.

Pinotage grapes
Pinotage grapes: note the dark purple colour.

Always drink responsibly. One standard drink of wine is approximately 100ml (3.3 fl oz). The New Zealand Ministry of Health recommends that women consume no more than 2 standard drinks a day, and no more than 10 standard drinks a week, and that men consume no more than 3 standard drinks a day and no more than 15 standard drinks a week (note that this is slightly lower than the limits recommended by the World Health Organisation). The World Health Organisation recommends that women abstain from alcohol during pregnancy. In New Zealand the legal drinking age is 18. Do not drink alcohol if you are under the legal age to do so in your country. It is illegal to drive while under the influence of alcohol.

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