Pinotage is a cross of the grapes Pinot Noir and Cinsaut; the variety inherited the sweet and berry features of Pinot Noir, whilst at the same time it tastes as fruity as Cinsaut. From this grape variety, thick wines are created that are rich in sugar which makes for the required sweetness. Some vintages develop smoky aromas and notes of bananas and tropical fruits. Pinotage is generally considered as a typical New World wine and has a high development potential. The grape is therefore rightly on its way to become the flagship for South Africa, like Shiraz for Australia or Malbec for Argentina. Winemakers bottle Pinotage purely on its own or as cuvees. The grape’s taste is also very suitable for rosé wine.
The plant is strong and the fruits ripen quickly. Pinotage can deliver up to 120 hectolitre per hectare, but as so often with premium wines, the yield is considerably smaller. Following rule of thumb applies here too: the smaller the yields, the higher the potential. Only this way, Pinotage can develop up to its best and combine the fruity character with the taste of sweet berries. Winemakers use long and cool fermentation periods and let the wine mature in oak barrels to prevent negative effects such as vinegar taste.
At the Stellenbosch University, the first professor for Viticulture Abraham Izak Perold crossed the two grape varieties Pinot Noir and Cinsaut. His aim was to combine the robustness of the latter with the taste of the former. Even though the experiment started in the professor’s garden in 1925, the South African winemakers started using this plant many years later. In 1941, the first wine was created from it around Elsenburg. South Africa’s national grape Pinotage was born. By the way: back then, Cinsaut was known as ‘Hermitage’, hence the combination of both names to ‘Pinotage’. Wine growers almost exclusively grow Pinotage in South Africa. The grape had its ups and downs: every time the winemakers wanted to adjust their wine to the ones from the Old World, they resorted to Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. If they strive to create a typical New World wine from South Africa though, they cannot pass up Pinotage. The grape is also considered as being the symbol for the country’s wine making identity. The grape variety is South Africa’s contribution to the world’s wine history.