The Crossing—Pinotage

The Crossing—Pinotage

Pinotage is a red wine grape whose origins lie in South Africa. The grape is the result of a crossing of Pinot Noir and Cinsault, which are both the species Vitis vinifera. The crossing was created in 1925 by Abraham Izak Perold, the first Professor of Viticulture at Stellenbosch University, with the hope of creating a grape with the vigor of Cinsault and the finesse of Pinot Noir.

Perold planted four seeds of this new grape in the garden of his official residence at Welgevallen Experimental Farm. He left the university in 1927, the planting were forgotten and the garden at his now-former residence became overgrown, so the university sent a few staff to clean it up. As chance would have it, Charlie Niehaus, a young lecturer at the university who knew about seedlings, happened upon the clean-up effort and he rescued the vines. Niehaus relocated them to Eisenburg Agriculture College, which was being run by Perold’s successor, D.J. Theron. In 1935, Theron took cuttings of the vines and grafted them onto other rootstock at Welgevallen to see if the vines would flourish. Perold visited his former university and he, along with Theron, checked on the vines and selected the one that was thriving the most as the one to propagate. The first wine produced from the grape was made in 1941 at Eisenberg. Commercial production soon followed.

Perold and Theron named the grape Pinotage paying homage to its parents Pinot Noir and Cinsault, which is known as “Hermitage,” in South Africa. Pinotage vines grow vigorously, and tend to ripen early with high sugar levels. The vines can be trellised on guide wires or grown as an untrellised bush vine. Old vines in South Africa are likely to be bush vines, which are thought to produce wines of more concentrated fruit flavors, with more depth.

Pinotage represents only six percent of the vineyard area in South Africa, yet it has become the iconic wine of the region. The grape is a required component in a “Cape Blend.” which must contain at least 30 percent, and no more than 70 percent Pinotage, blended with international varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon. Other regions growing Pinotage include Brazil, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, and the U.S. In the U.S., plantings can be found in Arizona, California, Oregon, Michigan, and Virginia.

Pinotage produces wines that are high in tannin. To reduce the high tannin, winemakers can limit maceration time, which is the time the juice spends in contact with the grape skins, however, this may reduce some of the fruity characteristics that can come from these grapes.

Wines made from Pinotage are deep red in color and display aromas and flavors of ripe cherry, strawberry, blackberry, and plum. Additional aromas and flavors include smoke, earth, bacon, hoisin sauce, and sweet tobacco. Pinotage can sometimes have an aroma of banana or tropical fruits, and has in the past been criticized for smelling of fresh paint. Modern winemaking techniques including, using long and cool fermentation, and aging wines in American and French oak, are being used to mitigate these characteristics.

Food pairings for Pinotage include barbeque, brisket, brats, burgers, pizza, and aged cheddar—all playing off the smoky characteristic.

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