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Pinotage – South Africa’s Famous Red Wine
South Africa has been producing wine for the past 200 years. But having been ignored by the world wine market in the recent past due to apartheid, a boom is now underway. With the lifting of trade sanctions came the opening of new markets, so many South African wines have become fashionable. Investments are being made both in the planting of new vineyards and in the installation of high-tech stainless steel wineries.
The climate makes it an ideal place to grow grapes with its beautiful and varied soils on wonderful and easy to cultivate mountain slopes. Many vineyards produce excellent quality wines for the world market, and one of these red wines is Pinotage.
Pinot Noir x Cinsault
The Pinotage grape variety was bred in 1925 by Professor AI Peroldt of Stellenbosch University. Pinot Noir, which produces the highly prized classic wines of Burgundy, was crossed with Cinsault, a prolific producer of relatively indistinguishable wines in the south of France. The common, if misleading, synonym of Cape Cinsault Hermitage inspired the third syllable. Both varieties are of the same genus vitis vinifera.
- Pinot Noir is very difficult to grow successfully.
- Cinsault is hardy and resistant to most vine diseases.
It was hoped, by crossing these two, that the new variety would acquire the good points of both parents: the classic taste of Pinot Noir with a large production from easy-growing vines. However, the results did not always turn out as expected with initial tastings not impressive enough, so Pinotage was largely ignored until 1961.
The revival of pinot wine
The revival began largely thanks to Beyers Truter who made his reputation as a winemaker at Kanonkop Estate in the 1980s. His championing of the variety led to international recognition at the English International Wine and Spirits Competition in 1991. These wines so impressed the judges so much so that he was awarded the Robert Mondavi Trophy as International Winemaker of the Year – becoming the first South African to win the award.
Pinotage gained international attention and wine drinkers eager to taste a new flavor sought out the unique wine. This caused the price of the Pinotage grape to increase 500% by 1995. It was now that winemakers began to take the wine seriously and many invested in the best quality French oak barrels to age it.
*The Pinotage Association was formed and an annual Pinotage Top 10 competition started.
Judges’ comments about the wines:
“I think the rest of the world should discover these wines and South Africans should be very proud of it. The balance of fruit, elegance and good integration of tannins is an indication of the talent of African viticulture and winemakers South. They made it very difficult for us to pick just the top ten.”
Julian Brind – British Master of Wine.
“People think there’s only one type of Pinotage, but the variety of styles makes it a real tasting experience, but every wine is still a Pinotage. A few years ago, it was my opinion that you could only pick five to seven. From all the entries, it is now difficult to choose the best fifteen. The quality and good balance of the wines improves year after year.”
Dave Hughes – South African international wine expert.
- Wine styles vary from smooth to rough in texture. Although it benefits from maturation, it is not often allowed to age.
- The characteristics of the wine are a spicy aroma, pepper with hints of banana and other red fruits.
- The words “bush-vine” on a South African label indicate that the vines are old, as only recently was Pinotage thought worthy of the expense of trellis.
- Pinotage is not unique to South Africa. It is made in neighboring Zimbabwe and is also widely planted in New Zealand.
Some of the best properties of Pinotage wines:
Kanonkop, Simonsig, Warwick, Camberley, Stellenzicht and Clos Malverne
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