The evolution of Pinotage – my story of the under rated SA varietal

My first memory of tasting pinotage, circa 2008, was not a very pleasant one. A sensory playback of my entire mouth puckering up, this still sticks fresh in my memory. Like so many of us, we all tend to lean towards the sweeter side of tipples in our young adulthood. Then along came my introduction to wine in a bottle, more specifically pinotage. I made the regrettable mistake when I jumped straight into the deep-end and went for a glass of pinotage instead of an easy-going pinot noir. How could I have known the difference, I mean my palate only knew the sweet taste of cheap and cheerful booze, so naturally the experience caused a serious boycott of all red wines.

Fast forward 10 years, and I am in the middle of completing my WSET level 1 course, tasting wines from regions I never knew existed, and yes a few of those wines were indeed local pinotages. I decided to study this internationally renowned course because of my (now) newfound love of wine. What fascinated me most was how one pinotage differed in taste to the next. Since my first ‘bitter’ experience with the South African varietal, I’ve ashamedly put the cultivar in a box and left it there to gather up dust. Thankfully my opinion and palate has since changed for the better.

Whilst on the topic of evolution, there are numerous factors that have influenced the red varietal’s growth since its inception. Climate change and all of the many consequences that come with it have a significant impact on wine producing and the entire industry as a whole. Climates suitable for wine production can be divided into three categories, namely hot, moderate and cool. The climate of a wine region is determined by how close it is to the equator. The closer to the equator, the hotter the climate. The climate type can have a dramatic effect on the flavours of ripe grapes. The growth of vines are incredibly sensitive to environmental change.

I am on a mission to taste  a variety of Pinotages from different regions and different wineries to compare how each factor listed has an effect on the taste and flavour profile of this cultivar.

With that said, I’ve selected a few of my favourite Pinotage wines, that in my humble opinion make for an enjoyable sensory experience. I’m not going to tell you how to taste and savour your wine however prepare to be pleasantly surprised with complex flavours when consuming these delicious gems.

Diemersdal Pinotage 2018 (not pictured here)

An easy-drinking pinotage that proved to be a hit at my wedding recently, mostly among non-red wine drinkers. A complex nose of red fruits, vanilla, exotic spices, and a hint of rich dark chocolate aromas.

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Groot Constantia Pinotage 2017

The wine shows flavours of vanilla combined with strawberry and juicy ripe plum on the nose. Red fruit flavours follow on the palate. This pinotage has a fine tannin structure with a long elegant finish. This is stocked away in my rainy day stash!

Wildekrans Barrel Select Reserve Pinotage 2014

A rich, though fresh, cool climate Pinotage with great structure and depth. Multi-layered complexity with red fruits and dark plums, exquisite length and complexity. Also in my rainy day stash.

Ashborne Pinotage/Cinsault 2018

From the Hamilton Russell Range Ashborne consists of 80% Pinotage and 20% Cinsault. This red blend is made from grapes sourced from old vines in the rockstar Swartland region. The Cinsault adds softening to the rich pinotage. It is astonishing in length and has great complexity.

Dominique Solomon

Dominique Solomon

Dominique Solomon is a freelance food and wine writer, food photographer with her own professional blog, Off Beet Blog. Her work has been featured on Groot Constantia's blog and social media channels. She has successfully obtained her WSET Level 2 and is planning on working towards her DipWSET in the near future. When she's not in front of her laptop writing, you can find her wine tasting around the winelands or snapping away at a delicious plate of food. Dominique's favourite local wine producer is the formidable Luddite Wines in the Bot River region.

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