Pinotage is South Africa’s best-known red wine grape, even though it is far from the most widely planted variety in the country. It is the iconic grape because it was created in South Africa and has a storied history.
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1. In 1925, at the Stellenbosch University a Professor of Viticulture crossed Pinot Noir with Cinsault (also known as Hermitage) to create the hybrid Pinotage grape.
2. Pinotage is the key component in the “Cape Blend”, a blend that was created to showcase Pinotage’s ability to make fine wine when blended with other dark-skinned varieties and named for South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, the rocky headland on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula.
However, more producers are making Pinotage as a stand-alone wine, rather than blending it, and in doing so, discovering specific sites and their potential styles.
3. While Pinotage is typically a good grower as a grape since ripens early with high sugar levels, the finished wine has been criticized for being particularly susceptible to volatile acidity while in the cellar, and has such strong tannins that it can be hard to tame them.
4. Another criticism is that Pinotage sometimes takes on a paint or chemical or acetone aroma, which some think of as a rubber smell.
5. When taken proper care of in the cellar, Pinotage can produce aromas of raspberry bushes, smoke, and tropical fruits, with an earthy, mineral character.
In addition to a dry red wine, Pinotage can also be created as sparkling red wine or a fortified port style wine. Well-known Pinotage producers include KWV, Kanonkop, and Rijk’s.
Although South Africa created Pinotage, it can now also be found in New Zealand and the U.S. with some small plantings in Zimbabwe, Canada, Israel, and Brazil. In South Africa, Pinotage is behind Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot for vine plantings.
Pinotage pairs well with pulled pork sandwiches and pizza with a smoky meat topping.
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