Friday, January 3, 2020

Perfecting Pinotage: South Africa’s Signature Red Wine

Pinotage is a South African original – a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. With the right crafting, the grapes produce deep, smoky delight.

P1060213In Search of A Heartier Pinot Noir

We can thank Professor Abraham Perold for the delectable Pinotage grape. The first professor of viticulture at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, he sought to create a hearty grape with the qualities of Pinot Noir.

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Pinot Noir makes some of the world’s finest wines – but is notoriously hard to grow. Perold created a cross between Cinsault and Pinot Noir. Cinsault is a sturdy French grape used abundantly in Languedoc-Roussillon reds and rosé from Provence. Perold apparently planted four seeds from his new grape and then forgot about them. Luckily some colleagues later rescued the seedlings and the most robust was dubbed Pinotage. (In South Africa, Cinsault is called Hermitage.)

Today, Pinotage is one of the most widely planted grapes in the country and one of the “Big Six” of the South African wine industry. It is not susceptible to mildew and ripens early in the season, avoiding many pests and diseases that strike other late harvested grapes.

Our experience with Pinotage has been mixed. I’ve had some bad bottles of Pinotage, ones that had off-putting odors and flavors. Thankfully the story continues. When we visited South Africa, we were able to taste a wide range of Pinotage that was flavorful and elegant. We are now on the Pinotage bandwagon.

A Grilled Steak And A Big Red

We recently discovered four new South African Pinotage offerings. To taste Pinotage in style we fired up the grill and cooked an inch-and-a-half Porterhouse steak. I heated the grill to (almost) maximum in order to get a nice sear. After cooking each side for a couple of minutes I added a nice coating of olive oil and Tuscan sea salt to create a flavorful crust. A couple of other steaks joined “Big Daddy” on the grill.

South African PinotageOur choice for the Porterhouse was the 2016 Ashbourne Pinotage from Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. This is a limited production beauty, with just 224 cases produced. It is aged for 16 months in French oak and is enhanced with malolactic fermentation. This is a bold yet graceful wine, which is what we love about South African wines in general.

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There are notes of tea and earth while ripples of blackberry and dark cherry permeate the glass. A perfect pick to go with our hearty wine. Retail price is $57.99.

Following next was the 2017 Lievland Bushvine, a blend of 88% Pinotage, 9% Cinsault, and 3% Shiraz. The wine is made from unirrigated bush vines from the Paarl region producing small, concentrated berries.

This is a smooth wine with savory earth notes accented by black cherry and menthol touches. This is a modern style with pure drinking enjoyment and no off-key notes. The finish has a dash of vanilla. SRP is $18.99.

Two Other Pinotage Options

We can recommend two other Pinotage bottles for your enjoyment. The 2018 Southern Right Pinotage, Walker Bay, has complex berry notes with ample red fruit and earth. SRP is $32.99. A part of your purchase goes to help preserve the rare Southern Right whales.

The 2017 MAN Family Wines Pinotage is an affordable intro to Pinotage at $11.99. It is a soft wine that emphasizes the Pinot Noir characteristics of the wine. It’s from the Agter-Paarl area of South Africa.

If there is a mid-point between Old World and New World, South African wines are it. The classic French influence is strong, dating to the Huguenots settling in the Cape of Good Hope in 1688. Yet the wines themselves display the rich, ripe fruit that highlights New World winemaking.

Pinotage, after being overlooked for many years, is now being embraced and is earning top wine awards in South Africa. It’s a wonder that a wine springing from Pinot Noir and Cinsault can display much more power than its parent grapes.

Pop open a Pinotage and don’t forget the steak!

Full disclosure: These wines were received as a marketing sample.

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