So, is “Pinotage” a “Pinot”?
Well, yes and no. Pinot (or more properly Pinot Noir) is a parent of Pinotage, but is definitely not the same thing. Pinotage is actually the result of cross-breeding of the Pinot Noir grape and the Cinsault grape to make something completely new and different.
In 1925, South African scientist Abraham Perold was searching for a way to make the popular Pinot Noir grape hardier and more easily cultivated in the South African environment. To do so, he crossed it with Cinsault, a much more heat tolerant and heavy producing black grape. Because Cinsaut is also called Hermitage, the resulting viticultural love child was named Pinotage (Pinot + Herimatage).
Pinotage turned out to be very different than its parents, producing a much darker wine with much higher tannins than either Pinot Noir or Cinsaut. It was a bold wine combing dark fruit flavors with earthier flavors like tobacco, bacon, and leather. And, as Abraham Perold had hoped, it was easy growing and productive in the South African heat.
Although good examples of Pinotage are definitely yummy, things can go horribly wrong under some conditions. If the growing temperatures get too high and the vines are stressed for water, the resulting wines display high volatile acidity, giving it the smell of paint or nail polish remover.
So, give Pinotage a try! Given some of the “paint smell” comments I had heard in the past, I was a little nervous to give it a try, but I’m certainly glad I did. As long as you’re not getting the super cheap stuff, I’m sure you’ll find a new and satisfying experience!
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- Jancis Robinson (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Wine, Third Edition p. 528. Oxford University Press 2006