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Culinary Arts

Pinotage Wine Guide: Learn More About the South African Wine

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jul 21, 2020 • 2 min read

The pinotage grape is not widely known outside of its home country of South Africa, but a recent wave of winemakers have taken it upon themselves to coax rich, nuanced expressions out of this bold, fruit-forward hybrid.

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What Is Pinotage?

Pinotage is a red wine made from the grape of the same name—a cross between pinot noir and cinsault (also known as cinsaut) grapes. The pinotage grape variety grows best in upright bush vines, also known as “goblet vines,” a form of un-trellised vine training favored by many old-vine vineyards in particularly warm climates, in which growers maintain the main branch by only pruning the newer canes come winter. The result is a gnarly, bulky cordon in the shape of a thick goblet stem with the additional benefit of a leafy canopy, which prevents the grapes from absorbing too much sun.

What Is the History of Pinotage Grapes?

Pinotage grapes were first created in 1925 by a South African scientist named Abraham Izak Perold, Stellenbosch University’s first viticulture professor. Perold created a hybrid of the pinot noir grape and the cinsault grape (then known locally as “hermitage,” giving pinotage the latter half of its name).

When Perold left the university two years later to join the KWV, a winemaking cooperative, the experimental seeds he’d planted were left behind in his garden. They were rescued by a young lecturer, who brought them to the Elsenburg Agricultural College, where work progressed on the new cultivar.

In 1995, the Pinotage Association was founded in an effort to legitimize the flagship red varietal of South African winemaking on the world stage.

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Where Are Pinotage Grapes Grown?

Pinotage was first cultivated in earnest in Stellenbosch, a productive wine region in South Africa’s Western Cape region, and is still mostly grown there. Pinotage is often used in blends with the area’s main grapes—cabernet sauvignon and shiraz. The grape variety is also found in many different formats, from rosé and sparkling reds. Pinotage can be drunk young, in a table wine, for example, or aged for a few years in the cellar.

Pinotage isn’t commonly grown for consumption in wine regions outside of South Africa. Some vintners in regions with similar, warm growing conditions, like parts of northern California, New Zealand’s North Island, and Israel, are now experimenting with the varietal.

What Does Pinotage Taste Like?

Pinotage, primarily known for its dark, ripe fruit flavors like blackberry, cherry, and fig, has a bold, sweet jammy flavor with a smoky, earthy finish.

Pinotage is a high-sugar, high-ABV, full-bodied grape with medium-high tannins. However, if the grapes soak up too much heat towards the end of their growing season, they can take on an unpleasant, acrid taste.

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How to Pair Pinotage With Food

Pair South African pinotage with foods that echo its character:

  • Roasted, smoky meats marinated in or served with dark, jammy fruits like plum.
  • The sweet-spicy balance of some barbecue sauces is also a good match for the South African wine.
  • Pinotage is quite full-bodied, but it does carry enough tannins and acidity to match up with anything distinctly savory, like pepperoni or sausage pizza, or a hearty wintertime braise.

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