Pinotage is a red wine grape produced by crossing Cinsault and Pinot Noir. This grape is almost exclusively grown in South Africa. It was first bred there in 1925, and derives its name from its parent grapes the “Pino” part coming from Pinot Noir, and the “tage” part coming from Hermitage(which is the name given to Cinsault in South Africa). The Pinotage grape ripens early and produces very well. The grape has a bit of a reputation of producing hit and miss varietal wines, with some vintages producing quality memorable wines. While others produce wines that are way to rich in tannins and acid. Although it is nearly exclusively planted in South Africa, where it is a required component in the Cape Blends, small plantings of this grape can be found in New Zealand, California, Brazil, Canada, and Israel. This grape is often blended, and is also used to produce fortified wine, and red sparkling wines.
Pinotage was created by Abraham Izak Perold, the first Professor of Viticulture at Stellenbosch University, in 1925. He wanted to create a vine with the robust qualities of Hermitage(Cinsault), and the great wine producing characteristics of the difficult to grow Pinot Noir. He planted this new cross at his residence at Welgevallen Experimental farm, and promptly forgot about them. Two years later he left the university, and a team was bought in to clean up the overgrown garden. Luckily a young lecturer named Charlie Niehaus recognised the vines and rescued them. In 1935 he and Perold selected the best vines and propagated them, naming the vines Pinotage. The first vintage was produced in 1941 at Elsenburg. The grape spread, gaining its first recognition at the 1959 Cape Wine Show where it won the award for Champion Wine. It wasn’t until many years later, in 1991 that Pinotage made its way back into the spotlight. South African wine maker Beyers Truter won “Wine Maker of the Year” at England’s International Wine and Spirit Competition for his Pinotage and after that there was a major renewed interest in Pinotage wines.
South Africa is the home to the majority of the world's plantings of Pinotage. In South Africa it covers just 6% of the total vineyard area but has become a symbol of the country's distinctive winemaking traditions. It is a required component (30-70%) in “Cape blends”. Here it is made into the full range of styles, from easy-drinking rosé and quaffing wines to barrel-aged wine intended for cellaring. It is also made into a fortified 'port' style wine, and even a red sparkling wine is produced here using the Pinotage grape. The latest and fastest growing trend seems to be the production of coffee styled Pinotage. Small amounts of this grape are being grown in Canada, Israel, Brazil, New Zealand, Zimbabwe and California and Virginia in the United states. In recent times German winemakers have started to experiment with Pinotage, with very small plantings found here.
Pinotage tends to take on a rustic profile and often shows earth-driven notes on both the nose and the palate, followed by fruit flavors of red berry, cherry and plum, and even banana. They can have spicy and “smokey” and on the extreme “burnt rubber” or even acetone characteristics. They are light to medium bodied, with firm tannins. These wines pair well with beef and game dishes as well as seafood dishes in rich sauce.