Updated: Oct 8, 2021
It was only in 1925 that Professor Abraham Izak Perold crossed Pinot Noir and Hermitage (AKA Cinsault) at University of Stellenbosch, South Africa...
At the time, Hermitage (Cinsault) was widely planted by the French in Algeria because of its ability to produce generous yields in hot & dry climates. Perhaps the aim of this intraspecific crossing (of two Vitis Vinifera) was to produce a grape that would have the finesse and bouquet of Pinot Noir and the heat & drought resistance of Cinsault? Anyways, four seeds of Pinotage were initially produced and gave birth to baby vines. The tiny vines were then taken care of by Professor CJ Theron at Elsenburg Agricultural College where they were grafted on Richter rootstock and planted in an experimental vineyard. The first wines were produced in the 1940’s and the vine was propagated throughout the 1950’s. It was in 1961 that the name “Pinotage” firstly appeared on a wine from the Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery.
Today, although several countries have experimented with Pinotage (New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Canada, the US, Australia, Israel, and Germany), it remains iconic of South Africa.
Pinotage seems to trigger heated debates and leaves no one indifferent! It's been said that it is difficult to make a Pinotage with ripe tannins below 14 % ABV. Some find it too sweet, too grippy, exhibiting volatile acidity and undesirable esters. At its best, Pinotage gives deep scents of ripe black cherry, blackberry, plum, figs. On the palate it has mouth-gripping tannins and it is full-bodied. Heavily toasted new American oak is sometimes used to tame the harsh tannins and add noticeable mocha notes to the finished wine. Some age-worthy examples show sweet tobacco notes over time. (As you probably noticed, it has not inherited much of its parents’ character! ) Pinotage is also known to make good rosés and often enters in the Cape Blend in various proportions.
Some notable producers of fine Pinotage include Kanonkop, DeWaal, Spice Route (full body), Fairview, Robertson and Swartland Winery Pinotage (lighter body).
To learn about grapes, enroll the WSET Level 2 Award in Wines with Wine & Spirit IQ in Bangkok.
Clarke, O. & Rand, M. (2015) Grapes & Wines. New York: Sterling Epicure
Fontyn, Y. (2013) Brand South-Africa. Pinotage: "A Love it or Hate it Wine"
Robinson, J. (2015) The Oxford Companion to Wine.New York: Oxford University Press Inc