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Pinotage –  Why the Love Hate Relationship?

Pinotage – Why the Love Hate Relationship?

Pinotage! What comes to mind if you think about a bottle of Pinotage? Is it a love, or is it a hate? The Pinotage cultivar is sadly known as the dark horse within the Red Wine World.

I read on Cape Town Magazine’s website which summons it up quite nicely. You are welcomed to read the full article here!

“If Pinotage was human, it would undoubtedly be the underrated high school kid that always seems to be picked last for sports teams, is occasionally bullied and is given quite a tough time, due to its misunderstood and delicate nature. With that said, you can think of this piece as the cool kid that recognises something special, in the South African red grape varietal and defends it in a simple way…” – SIC

To understand the Pinotage cultivar, you need to have a little history lesson, to understand where it comes from, and how it developed to where it is today.

The History of the Pinotage Grape!

A long, long time ago, in a far away land, was this magician who made a very special potion…. (a record scratch sound) Actually, it wasn’t that long time ago! It was in 1925, in a land actually not so far away, but right here on our door step, in Stellenbosch, South Africa. The Pinotage grape was born, not by a magician, but rather by a Professor. Professor Abraham Izak Perold had decided to make science in his very own backyard. He took the Pinot Noir and crossed it with Hermitage (also known now as Cinsaut). We are not too sure, as to why he decided to do this, as he never left any notes or clues. The reason, behind his madness it to be believed is that the Pinot Noir cultivar was struggling in the South African terrain/weather. He decided to cross it with a more stronger cultivar, which was the Hermitage cultivar. Sadly the Professor never really got to taste his interesting cultivar. Some say if he had, he may have ripped it out, destroyed it and save the world from this “unsightly child”.

Pinotage on the vine
The Pinotage grape is very dark in colour and has a very strong tannin.

What resulted from this crossing of these two cultivars came quiet surprising. The Pinotage grapes, is extremely dark in colour, and has a very bold flavours and high tannins. Despite this love hate relationship, it is the second most planted grape in South Africa (after Chenin Blanc). Making the Pinotage a Proudly South African wine!

Pinotage was almost lost forever!

Yes friends! For those of us who really enjoy Pinotage that would have been heartbreaking, and for those who don’t well, I guess they wished Dr. Charlie Niewhous would not have gone pass the Professor’s house. How did all of this happened? Well the Pinotage, was left dormant for almost 20 years. When the Professor made his mad science experiment in his backyard, not long after that he moved house and forgot about his special grapes. As the house had stood empty for a number of years, the University had sent a team to go and clean up the yard. Just as the team was about to chop out the weeds and plants, our hero in our story, Dr. Charlie Niehaus had saved these 4 seedlings from eternal extermination by the sharp tools the gardening team was using. These seedlings made its way to Elsenberg Agricultural College in 1941. This makes the Pinotage one the youngest varietals – worldwide. 

Why the love hate relationship between Pinotage drinkers?

It is all thanks to really bad wine making practices that gave this wine a bad reputation. Producers back in the day often made low quality Pinotage because of its really dark colour, wineries could stretch the wine to make it thin.

As it has Pinot Noir characteristic the Pinotage grape itself is delicate and can be quiet volatile. It is not an easy grape it needs serious hard work if you want to produce a high quality pinotage. If it is not grown correctly that is when the grape can give you that horrible nail varnish remover or burnt rubber flavour and smell.

It has not been an easy ride for Pinotage, and it only get the recognition it deserves in 1991, when Kanonkop Pinotage from Beyers Truter had won the Best Red Wine at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London. This made the world realise that Pinotage can be a very big contender.

Harvesting of the Pinotage GrapeThe pinotage grape being harvested very meticulously.

Today, there are a number of wine-makers who get it right. Winemakers soon learnt how versatile the Pinotage grape is and you can make different types of wines. It could be a light and juicy, easy drinking wine to something  very serious which is age-worthy and remarkable.

What does bad Pinotage taste like?

I really do hope that nobody ever has to have a bad bottle of pinotage. It will not be a pleasant experience for anyone, especially if you have not ever tried Pinotage before. It will have this nail polish remover taste – or banana, should you choose to be polite. The aroma’s when you open a bottle will be very sharp and pungent. This is when the VA  (Volatile Acid) is too high.  Sometimes winemakers could leave the skins and seeds on for too long and when they over-extract this cultivar this is when you get that horrible burnt rubber or tar undertones coming through. Winemakers will ferment the Pinotage wine fast to reduce the rigid tannins and complete the fermentation processes with the skins off.

See, I told you that you would not want to experience a bad bottle of Pinotage.

What does a good Pinotage Taste like?

There is nothing nicer than enjoying a really good bottle of Pinotage. Other than the purple and black fruits, you can also find some raspberries (and a really good bottle will be like raspberry/blackberry jam) or red liquorice. What makes Pinotage so different and unique is that you can pick up undertones of rooibos, earthy flavours like dried leaves and a wonderful smokiness of bacon or sweet tobacco pipe.

It was interesting to see what people have to say about Pinotage:

Pinotage Reviews

My Boozy Kitchen’s Secret Tip in Drinking Pinotage:

As the tannins in a Pinotage wine are very bold, my secret to drinking Pinotage, is putting it in the fridge for 20 minutes. Bringing the temperature of the wine down to 14 – 16° C. I promise you it makes a huge difference. It just takes that edge off! The room temperature in South Africa is a lot higher than what it is in Europe. Ideally you want to be drinking your red wines at a temperature of between 18 – 16°C.

What foods pairs well with Pinotage?


Pinotage pairs well with hearty foods

As it is a proudly South African food, you want to pair it with the right South African cuisine. This will make the Pinotage wine sing. You want to go for rustic, earthy, smokey and strongly spiced flavoured foods.

Think of foods like a Bobotie, Briyani and foods that have strong Cape Malay Spices. What would a braai be without a bottle of Pinotage? Its smoky flavours from the charcoal grill are the perfect pairing to a smoky Pinotage.

Winter is coming, so that rich robust stew or potjie, is always a winner with a Pinotage wine. 

Full-bodied Pinotage is better suited to venison, spare ribs with a rich barbecue sauce, oxtail or osso buco.

Pinotage will also pair absolutely wonderful with the following cheeses: Mild, medium or smoked Cheddar, Edam, Glouchester, Manchego, Muenster, Provolone (aged), Parmesan, Pecorino, Roncal or even a Smoked Gouda.

How about surprising your friends, as some Pinotages has chocolate or coffee flavours, try serving it with a rich and dark deccadent chocolate cake, or chocolate truffles or even a Tiramisu made with Pinotage!

Don’t be scared. Experiment! Never forget, the best match… sometimes, is just you and a glass of Pinotage!

My Boozy Kitchen’s Top Favourite Pinotage Wines:
**(This is by my personal taste and have not been ask by any of the cellars to rate, review or mention their wines.)**

 #1 Conradie Penhill – Pinotage

Ironically, this wine was tops in our Wine Tasting Club. Sometimes, price is not always the best wine. This bottle sells for R120.

This wine is aged for 1 year in small French and American oak barrels. It has this beautiful dark ruby colour with a brilliant crimson rim. Not shy of fruity flavours with wafts of plums, well integrated spiciness and dusted with a smokey finish. This wine is truly beautiful.

#2 Nuy Cellar – Die Koffiepit Pinotage

This wine has a rich berry undertone, that is not sweet. This wine has also been in wood, which means it gets that lovely coffee flavour. I also picked up hints of caramel. This is a really nice coffee pinotage without it being tacky. This bottle sells for about R70 which makes my pocket smile!

#3 Van Loveren – African Java

The first time I had this wine, was at Cattle Barron’s for a romantic dinner with hubby. This wine was beautiful, it paired so perfectly with my steak. Maybe because it was an anniversary dinner, but this wine always stuck in my mind. It is an oak matured Pinotage with a vibrant plum and ripe berry fruit on the palate. The wine has an intense aroma of roasted coffee beans followed by a smokey mocha java aftertaste.

# 4 Spier 21 Gables – Pinotage

Maybe I am a little bias, as I did work for Spier Wines for 7 years. This is one of the wines that made me love a pinotage. It has flavours of caramelised black cherries, (who doesn’t love black cherries) hints of dark spice and dark chocolate. The curvaceous palate is smooth, dense with dark fruits and a lingering velvety tannin. This wine is the perfect wine with any venison meat.

# 5 The Grinder Pinotage

Ok…, Ok…., I know this is a rather cheap bottle of wine. I am such a sucker when it comes to labels. Unless I am looking for something specific, my next go to is labels. If it something different, quirky and unique I normally go for it. I actually had a collection of different wine bottles with their labels on. Sometimes, it was really bad wine, and other times it was pretty good. This one, the price was good, love the label, and the wine itself was pretty awesome! It paired super well with our fondue evening. A very smooth easy drinking wine, but not short on any flavours. Beautiful intense black cherry, plum and raspberry undertone with a hint of coffee, which leaves this amazing long and lingering finish.

“A Trophy and 90 Points for The Grinder. It’s a wine that shows Pinotage – the pride and joy of South African reds – at its richest, darkest, velvety best. Packed with deep black berry and smoky spice character, this wine is luscious and mouth-filling.” – Sunday Times Wine Club.

So let us celebrate the Pinotage wine. It is a New World Styled wine which is proudly South African! It even has it’s own International Day – 13th of October 2018!

Thank you for reading my article today, and I always love hearing from you. What are your thoughts on this cultivar. Is this your go to wine? What is the best Pinotage you have ever sipped? Would you like to win a bottle of Pinotage? Click here, and you can win a bottle of Badsberg Pinotage 2016!

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