result of a 1cross between the Pinot Noir and
Cinsault varieties, Pinotage
was created in South Africa in 1925, by
Stellenbosch University Professor A.I.
Perold, during experiments to develop new varieties.
Although there is a very low rate of success when breeding new vine varieties, this cross, eventually called 2Pinotage, showed promise. It is often said that Professor Perold intended to get Pinot Noir’s flavor from a vine with the robustness of Cinsaut, but Perold was the leading viticulturist of the day and he knew that result was unlikely. As plausible a motivation is that Pinot Noir was his favorite variety and Cinsaut was the dominant red variety in South Africa at the time.
Initial tastings did not
sufficiently impress, so Pinotage was largely
ignored until 1961, when a 1959 vintage 3Pinotage
won the Grand Championship at the Cape
Young Wine Show,
South Africa's long-running and uniquely-themed
There was a
subsequent rush towards planting Pinotage vines.
The vines proved easy to grow and high sugar
levels were easily achieved, it is a good
cropper and many farmers overproduced. The
resulting wines didn't show the early potential
and Pinotage tended to be used to bulk out
popular-priced blends. There was also a tendency
for the wine to show a sweet paint or
nail-varnish-like bitterness. And as such it
suffered descriptions such as "rusty nails".
A few wineries
began to specialize in pinotage and showed that
a wine worthy of serious consideration could be
made. But plantings declined year by year.
Pinotage acreage sunk to around 2% of total area
by 1993, with prices and demand for Pinotage
grapes dropping, much was distilled for brandy.
Again, a wine
competition proved savior. In 1991, Kanonkop Estate's
winemaker Beyers Truter entered his Pinotages at
Wine and Spirit
These so impressed the judges that he was
presented with the "Winemaker of the Year" award
- becoming the first South African to win this
gained international attention, and wine
drinkers keen to enjoy a new taste clamored for
the unique wine, causing the price of Pinotage
grapes to shoot up 500% by 1995. Again
winemakers started taking the wine seriously and
many even invested in French oak casks to age
it. Wine Spectator Editor James Suckling was at
a 1995 Cape of Good Hope tasting of old Kanonkop
Pinotages when he declared, "What the hell's
going on around here? These are spectacular
SPECTACULAR! Why did you murder the
Reacting to renewed interest, The Pinotage
Association was formed, research
funded, and an annual Pinotage Top 10
competition begun. Research found that
fermentation at too low a temperature was the
cause of the nail-varnish problem.
The ending of
apartheid not only removed trading sanctions,
thus opening up new markets, but also created a
great international interest in all things South
African. And what was more South African than
its own varietal? On the other hand, vineyards
could finally import vine stocks and the
inclination was to plant more fashionable world
varieties. At the start of the twenty
first-century, demand for Pinotage is increasing
and the acreage now forms almost 6% of the South
African total for wine grapes.
be made in several different styles: young,
light, and fruity, like Beaujolais, deep and
rich like a Cotes du Rhone or Zinfandel, or
elegant and restrained like Bordeaux are the
most common styles. There are also popular
'blush' versions and several fortified into
Port-style sweet dessert wines. Pinotage can also be a component in sparkling wine and at least one producer makes Methode
Champenoise sparkling red Pinotage.
So what should
you expect in a red Pinotage? Good depth of
flavor, a unique individual fruity refreshing
wine. Some tasters remark on a banana-like
taste. I have noted bramble fruits and a velvet
texture. It is a dinner wine, with good levels
of alcohol giving depth and structure and
keeping ability. But - like Zinfandel - there is
no old-world style for winemakers to model on,
so opening a bottle from a new winery is very
much an adventure.
Diemersfontein winery pioneered a popular Pinotage that has coffee and chocolate flavours, arising from a combination of a particular vineyard and toasted barrels, and the giant KWV followed with a similar wine called Café Culture.
The words "bush-vine" on a South African label
indicate that the vines are old, planted before machine harvesting. Although not legally defined, the practice of labeling wine as a "Cape Blend" usually means Pinotage with Bordeaux varieties. Warwick Estate’s ‘Three Cape Ladies’ and Kaapzicht Estate’s ‘Vision’ are two leading examples and E & J Gallo markets a Cape Blend in the USA under the Sebeka label.
not unique to South Africa. New Zealand, where the relatively thick,
rot-resistant Pinotage skin is an added benefit in the
humid north island, has been making it almost as long. Israel now has two wineries making Pinotage and there are at least six producers in Canada. Brazil and Zimbabwe also make wine from Pinotage and Australia will be soon. In the United States, Virginia has three wineries growing and making Pinotage and planting is increasing in 4California where nearly 20 wineries are currently producing it.
Pinotage is a cross - not a hybrid. A hybrid results from two different
species, usually vinifera with native
American labrusca or rotundifolia vines, of the same genus (vitis). Cinsault
and Pinot Noir are of the same genus and
species, both vitis
2. Cinsault was known then in South Africa as
Hermitage, hence the name Pinotage. Cinsault is
spelled Cinsaut in the Cape and was a major red variety in the 1920s, but now rarely found as a varietal and plantings, currently 3% of the South
African vineyard total, are diminishing. RETURN
first varietal Pinotage wine offered for sale
was from the 1959 vintage, made by Pieter Morkel at Bellevue Estate sold in bulk to Stellenbosch Farmers Winery, who, following up on its win at the '59 Cape Young Wines Show, released it as a varietal Pinotage under the Lanzerac label (no relation to the current South
African winery by that name) in 1961.
4. In California, Steltzner has been growing Pinotage
from the early 1970s and produces about 450
cases annually. The Matsen Family, owners of Vino Con Brio have the largest planting of Pinotage
in the entire U.S. at 8 acres. RETURN
The Pinotage Association
promotes and advances wines made from this grape.
Peter F.May is the author of PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine and founder of The
Pinotage Club, a free
and noncommercial organization whose aim is to promote, encourage,
and publicize Pinotage. A newsletter is free on request. In addition to his
interest in Pinotage, Peter collects wine labels and publishes
Wines site to promote
wine diversity, featuring labels, varieties and wines of unusual
origin. His book Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape was inspired by the site. Peter also contributed to PfW's Understanding
Wine Labels article.