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A distinctively earthy and rustic variety, Pinotage is South Africa’s signature grape. In 1925 viticulturists crossed finicky Pinot Noir and productive, heat-tolerant Cinsault, and created, surprisingly, a variety both darker and more tannic than either of its parents. Pinotage at first seemed nearly impossible to tame, with its bold profile and wild flavors but advances in viticultural and winemaking techniques have since helped to make Pinotage wines quite alluring. Today it is a popular South African export both as a single varietal wine and in “Cape blends.” It is grown very minimally outside of South Africa.
In the Glass
There is no mistaking the smell of Pinotage—common descriptors include tobacco, smoke, tar, bacon, licorice, hoisin sauce and dark fruits of plum and blackberry. The flavors are bold, and tannins are firm but ripe—in fact, many Pinotage wines bear more resemblance to Australian Shiraz than to Pinot Noir.
For a wine this powerful, food should be equally bold, and gets bonus points for mirroring Pinotage’s sweet and sour flavors. Classic smoky South African braai (barbecue) is the most obvious match, while grilled curry sausage, lamb biryani or richly spiced beef stew would be equally welcome.
The name “Pinotage” is a subtle portmanteau: The Pinot part is obvious, but the second half is a bit confusing. In the early 1900s, Cinsault was known in South Africa as “Hermitage”—hence Pinotage. The somewhat less appealing “Herminoir” was also considered.
Beaumont Pinotage 2015Pinotage from South Africa
Warwick Estate Pinotage 2014Pinotage from South Africa
Graham Beck Game Reserve Pinotage 2015Pinotage from South Africa
Fort Ross Vineyard Pinotage 2013Pinotage from Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County, California
Riebeek Cellars Pinotage 2016Pinotage from South Africa