With weather like we have all been experiencing, South Africa would be a good place to be. Even if you are not quite able to fit in a visit to those sunny climes you could enjoy that warmth from a bottle of red Pinotage wine. This is definitely the signature grape of South Africa, and a variety they actually produced for themselves. Thankfully they are more than willing to share this pleasure with the wider world. Realising that Cinsaut produced a first class blending wine, bringing the best out of the other varieties being used, Professor Perold, Stellenbosch University, took thing a stage further. In 1925, whilst holding the Chair of Viticulture, A I Perold actually crossed Cinsaut with Pinot Noir, one of the great black grapes. This was just the start.
In South Africa they traditionally refer to Cincaut as Hermitage, hence the combination in the name of Pinotage, pronounced peeno ta ze. This is not a hybrid but a viticultural cross, both parents being of the family Vitis vinifera. In 1935 Professor C J Theron, successor to Prof. Perold, took the development of this new variety forward, producing the first Pinotage wine in 1941. Things really began to take off in 1959, Pinotage crowned as Champion of Champions at the Cape Wine Show, followed by a wave of planting throughout the 1960s. By 1997 Pinotage was commanding higher prices than any other South African wine.
South Africa was the second of the New World countries to cultivate vines, a few plants escaping from the sailing ships bound for Australia. The rich diversity of South African wines, delivered from vineyards clustered around the spectacular mountains and coastlines of the Cape Province, has clawed back the dominance of Pinotage. But the best South African Pinotages are still unbeatable. This vigorous, early ripening grape has high levels of both sugar and tannin. The grapes, however, are picked late to provide the rich fruit flavours and to limit quite serious characteristics. Pinotage, if not treated carefully, can exhibit pungent aromas, akin to wet paint and nail varnish, caused by isoamyle acetate and volatile esters.
Long, cool fermentation can minimise these problems, and best quality grapes are processed with oven-topped fermentation before going into oak casks for at least 12 months. This will fully develop the cherry, raspberry and even banana fruitiness in the deep ruby wine. Back flavours of tobacco and leather can also be detected in the aromas. This is a wine to drink with steak, spare ribs and barbecued lamb on skewers. Pinotage has been appreciated throughout the world for fully half a century. The vine has taken longer to travel out of Africa. Zimbabwe and Germany were the first to adopt Pinotage. Since then it has reached Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, California and Virginia in the USA, and Israel. Places in the sun.