The vines were initially referred to as “Perold’s Hermitage x Pinot”. The name Herminoire was also considered. The first grapes were grown at Elsenburg Agricultural College, and the first Pinotage wines were made here in 1941. The first
Pinotage wine was made at Elsenburg in 1941.The first commercial vines were planted at either Myrtle Cove near Sir Lowry’s Pass or Muratie in Stellenbosch.
Kanonkop also planted the vines in 1941. Bellevue Pinotage brought recognition to
the grape when it was named the General Smuts Trophy Winner at the Cape Wine Show in 1959. In 1961, the Kanonkop Estate Pinotage won the same award. But it was only in 1961 that the name Pinotage first appeared on the label – to market the 1959 Bellevue Estate Pinotage, branded under Lanzerac.
Pinotage is the third most planted red grape in South Africa. It makes up 7.2% of all the South African vine plantings, coming in before Merlot and behind Shiraz. Paarl, Swartland and Stellenbosch all have close to 2,000 hectares each, followed by Robertson at 875 hectares.
Stellenbosch Farmer’s Winery were the first to use the name Pinotage on a label in 1961, to market the 1959 champion Pinotage of Bellevue Estate under the Lanzerac brand.
Ranking 97th on the list of grapes planted around the world, Pinotage
is without a doubt South Africa’s national grape. It was created in 1925 by Abraham Izak Perold, who was the first professor of viticulture at Stellenbosch University.
Pinotage's characteristics are a dry, full-bodied, high tannin wine with both dark and red fruit but, it can be made in a variety of styles.
Look for red berries, black berries, plums, cherries, and fig. Banana is also a common marker as well as hoisin, bacon and leather. Smoke, tobacco, chocolate, and coffee are indications of oak.
What to expect from your glass of Pinotage? It all depends on the style you’re sipping. Look for red berries, black berries, plums, cherries, and fig. Banana is also a common marker in wines that are more extracted. Hoisin, bacon, leather, and smoke are beautiful descriptors that I often associate with my favourite Pinotage wines - these remind me of older, funky Pinot Noirs. Smoke, tobacco, chocolate, and coffee are indications of oak.
Look for wines where these oak notes are more integrated and less jarring - they should give the wine structure and depth to make an interesting and complex wine, rather than become the standout feature.
Across the world
Ranking 97th on the list of grapes planted around the world, Pinotage is without a doubt South Africa’s national grape. A cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (then known as Hermitage in SA), it was created in 1925 by Abraham Izak Perold, who was the first professor of viticulture at Stellenbosch University. His aim was to create a more robust Pinot Noir that offered the best characteristics of Pinot with the more dependable traits of Cinsault.
The grape has been maligned with a reputation of ‘rubbery tyre’ and acetone notes in some commercial wines. And along with a history of insipid wine production prior to 1994 (when the South African Co-Operative Wine Growers Association emphasised
quantity over quality), the grape has struggled to overcome its ‘bad rap’ for some.
The general characteristics are a dry, full-bodied, high tannin wine with both dark and red fruit but, it can be made in a variety of styles - both single varietal and blends. The way the grape is grown, choice of rootstock, and winemaking decisions all play a role
in the style of wine being made.
The three styles of Pinotage that are most noticeable are:
Lighter, fresher, easy drinking styles that show red fruits and can have similarities to the parent grapes
Fuller-bodied wines where judicious use of oak creates rich, smoky, concentrated, spiced red and black berries that have more subtle chocolate and coffee notes
Commercial wines that make deliberate use of toasted oak staves to produce pronounced chocolate or coffee aromas.
Pinotage is grown in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Israel, New Zealand, United States, and Zimbabwe. But South Africa is where the grape originated, and where the largest volumes and most meaningful wines are produced.
In the vineyard
Pinotage works incredibly well with a variety of food and should be considered when eating spicier foods that are often difficult to pair with wines.
As much as Pinotage is not Pinot Noir or Cinsault, the wine often works well with similar pairing dishes. Duck works well with Pinot Noir and Pinotage. Cinsault-inspired Mediterranean pairings such as red peppers and aubergines suit Pinotage too.
Perhaps I'm just obsessed with Moussaka, but the smoky, creamy aubergine bake is delicious with Pinotage. As are grilled mushrooms with their umami overload. Dark leafy greens dressed in olive oil, garlic, roasted walnuts, and finished with a sprinkle of high- quality sea salt could sing alongside the wine.
Pizza with your favourite toppings (I'm a plain jane margherita with extra cheese) just does so well with any high acid wine. It's the tomato sauce playing with the acid in the wine that makes this a classic.
And while we're speaking of cheese - Pinotage can hold its own against a solid hunk of mature cheddar. The richness of quiche and lasagna sometimes needs a palate freshening high acidity wine.
Asian foods, made with teriyaki sauce and plum sauce, align with the umami notes that so many Pinotage wines exhibit. Hoisin is a note that I often pick up in Pinotage. Aligning those aromas and flavours with Asian meals highlights them in both the wine and the food.
Braaivleis and potjies paired with Pinotage is like freshly baked bread and butter. They belong together. I can't think of a more patriotic meal right now. Slow-cooked meats, such as lamb shanks or pulled pork or oxtail stew, are easy choices because they're so delicious. Pinotage is my go-to choice with venison pies and ostrich steaks served with a plum sauce.
But my all-time favourite Pinotage pairing has to be Indian dishes, such as biryani and curries. It's the intricate spices that create depth and add depth to the Pinotage. And when you have fruity, lighter wine, it can soothe the heat in the dishes.