Pinotage: South Africa's Signature Red Wine

Pinotage is a uniquely South African varietal with a fascinating history
Pinotage is a uniquely South African varietal with a fascinating history | © Kym Ellis / Unsplash

Freelance Writer - instagram.com/andrewthompsonsa

It’s no longer a secret that Cape Town is one of the world’s best wine regions. However, a grape unique to South Africa is once again starting to attract the attention of both casual and seasoned quaffers around the world. Few people outside the industry know that the famous varietal called Pinotage actually has its roots exclusively in South Africa.

The Pinotage grape varietal has a long and fascinating history, with roots going all the way back to 1925. It was then that Stellenbosch professor Izak Perold successfully cross-pollinated Pinot noir and Cinsaut flowers, and the results would start the industry down this road to success.

Vineyard conditions in the Western Cape are perfect for growing Pinotage grapes

In the early 90s, local winemaker Beyers Truter was awarded the title of International Winemaker of the Year for his Pinotage. Suddenly, the world wanted to know more about this hybrid grape, and those eager to jump on the bandwagon started producing high volumes of cheap Pinotage. According to the experts, they were missing out on the grape’s unique characteristics, almost killing it before it was born.

Francois Roode of Diemersfontein Wines (one of the most popular Pinotage producers in South Africa) believes that it was persistence and extensive ongoing research that ensured South Africa’s Pinotage was unique and of the highest quality.

“We never gave up on the cultivar in the beginning when we didn’t understand it,” says Roode. “Initially, the quality of the wines was poor, but a lot of research was done on Pinotage in the vineyard and in the cellar.”

Established producers eager to see the grape treated with suitable care and respect created the Pinotage Association in the mid-90s, to ensure that South Africa would remain the leading producer of Pinotage around the world.

Because of this, Roode believes the wine can stand alongside the best in the world. “We in South Africa are now known for Pinotage, like Argentina for Malbec, and we are proud of it,” he says.

Getting the most out of Pinotage

Pinotage grows particularly well in the Cape, and it’s clear that Roode is passionate about the grape’s qualities, both in the field and in the bottle.

The vine is not as susceptible to diseases as some other varieties of grape, and it can also withstand the drought conditions that have gripped the region recently.

Pinotage wine has a beautiful deep, red-purple colour

Growing qualities aside, however, it’s the end product that truly sets this grape apart.

“Pinotage wine has a beautiful deep, red-purple colour, plum and other black fruit aromas and velvety tannins,” says Roode. “It is a great blending partner with Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, for making Cape Blend-styled wines.”

Still, making good Pinotage wines is challenging, says Roode. Without care, he says that some Pinotage wines can be “fruity and lean”, adding that “fermentation control is also important, to prevent too much banana character and a bitter taste”.

According to Roode, the secret to producing world-class Pinotage begins on day one. “If you start in the vineyard producing good-quality grapes,” he says, “then the process in the cellar will be smoother.”

Good marketing or truly unique?

Although Pinotage’s distinctive qualities have made it one of the country’s top wines, it’s also been on the receiving end of some significant marketing clout recently.

The coffee and chocolatey undertones of many popular Pinotages in South Africa have earned it favour with casual wine drinkers, and festivals like Diemersfontein’s Pinotage on Tap have also made it one of the trendier varietals to purchase.

According to Roode, though, the wine’s success is a combination of both marketing and quality control.

“The Pinotage Association has done a lot on marketing by means of roadshows with the annual Top 10 Pinotage winners,” he says. “With all the research done by the Association, we’ve got a better understanding of the grape, and are making better-quality wines.”

Since its humble beginnings with its first international award in the early 90s, Pinotage has gone on to win several more, and has featured at the International Wine and Spirits Competition numerous times as best red, competing with the best wines in the world.

Conditions in the Cape are perfect for growing grapes used in Pinotage

Which Pinotage to drink

If you’re in South Africa and want to sample the best of the best, check the Diemersfontein Event Page for details of their annual Pinotage on Tap festival that takes place across the country.

You can also pick up a wide range of Pinotage wines from estates, supermarkets and liquor stores. According to the Pinotage Association, these were the top 10 for 2018:

Allée Bleue Black Series Old Vine Pinotage 2016
Beyerskloof Diesel Pinotage 2015
Diemersdal Pinotage Reserve 2017
Fairview Primo Pinotage 2016
Flagstone Writer’s Block Pinotage 2016
Kaapzicht Steytler Pinotage 2015
Kanonkop Pinotage 2013
Lyngrove Platinum Pinotage 2016
Môreson The Widow Maker Pinotage 2015
Rijk’s Reserve Pinotage 2014

landscape with balloons floating in the air

KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?

Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

X
Edit article