Mark Aselstine
May 24, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

A Short Word on Pinotage


If there was ever a wine which caused discussion, it’s definitely Pinotage. Combine a unique taste with production occurring primarily in South Africa and you have a wine which is going to befuddle many wine lovers, even some of us within the industry.

As always, let’s start at the beginning. Pinotage was “born” in South Africa some time after WW I (1925 is generally accepted) as a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. Cinsault was called Hermitage at the time in South Africa and continued to be known by that name until genetic testing showed that Hermitage and Cinsault were in fact the same grape, so the name reverted back to the French version. Thus, the name Pinotage being a combination of the two grapes. I don’t think Pinotsalt works well.

From the beginning, it was an odd match. Pinot Noir is a cool weather grape. Cinsault is a warm weather grape. Pinot Noir hails quite famously from Burgundy. Cinsault was almost extinct at the time in the Rhone Valley.

The combination of flavors which are present, really depend on your personal palate. Fans of the wine and the grape point to it’s easy growing schedule and interesting combination of lightness along with a fuller body than a typical Pinot Noir. Additionally, the wine is known as the prince of South African wine, with winemakers in that country the only one’s consistently using the grape in their vineyards, although you can certainly find a few California versions these days. Those who don’t especially enjoy the wine will consistently tell you that there are flavors or smells which remind them of old socks, or paint.

All of this being said, we will certainly always include a Pinotage when we have South African tasting events. It’s an interesting wine to be sure. Not everyone is going to enjoy it, but unlike so many grapes it really does promote conversation within wine, which long term is a very good thing.


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