One of the more under appreciated wine regions in the world, at least for the America consumer, is South Africa. Having had to rebuild their wine industry after the tumultuous political period during the final decades of the 20th Century, the region has emerged as tremendous producers of Chardonnay, Steen (Chenin Blanc), Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz…the latter reds often used successfully in blends.
Aside from these varietals there is one that is indigenous to South Africa, one that is unlike any other in this world and a varietal which I believe is the perfect compliment for anything off the grill, particularly red meat & game: Pinotage.
A cross between the varietals Cinsault and Pinot Noir, Pinotage typically is known as having fruity and complex characteristics similar to that of Pinot Noir, but with a distinct smokiness not found in any other varietal.
Dating back to my time in the wine industry, I’ve tasted a plethora of Pinotages and believe me when I say there exists a wide range of quality levels that are available in America. The cheaper the Pinotage (under $12), the harsher the smokiness and acidity tends to be, though moderately priced bottles ($12-18) of the varietal don’t necessarily guarantee satisfaction for one’s palate either. The ideal Pinotage, in my opinion, achieves the delicate balance of combining the smooth/elegant fruit characteristics of a Pinot Noir with a refined smoky, tobacco, earthiness that enhances not overrides the wine’s essence.
It’s my intention to present you with six different Pinotage and Pinotage blends that are solid to great introductions to the varietal. Each wine will be a slightly different take on Pinotage allowing you to decide for yourself which might be the best to familiarize yourself with the essence of and hopefully gain an appreciation for the varietal. My reviews of the first three Pinotages are below and the remaining three will be posted in next week’s Thirsty Thursday.
One important note: If you’re unfamiliar with Pinotage or aren’t necessarily fond of some of its characteristics, it is often best to start with a wine that blends the varietal with one or more reds.
Here is Part I of my reviews:
2009 Goats In Villages Shiraz Pinotage (Coastal Region)
Composed of 70% Shiraz and 30% Pinotage, Goats in Villages is easily the most simplistically approachable of the Pinotages reviewed for those having their first taste of the varietal. The wine is deep red/purple in color with notes of currant and spice encompass the nose. Medium bodied, the palate expresses round ripe fruit flavors, light tannins, and only the smallest hints of smoke. An inexpensive and casual wine that is perfect for a weekday evening.
Goats do Roam Website
Retails Around $10-12
2008 Neil Ellis Pinotage (Stellenbosch)
Black cherry in color with a purple hue, the wine opens with cherry, sweetness, and a tinge of alcohol on the nose. Wet and medium bodied, the palate opens with dark red fruit surrounded by a light smokiness that ebbs into a balance of tannins and acidity on the back half. Not a flashy Pinotage by any means and comes across more as a darker Pinot Noir.
Neil Ellis Website
Retails Around $16
2008 Warwick Pinotage (Stellenbosch)
Dirty dark cherry in color (sort of a brown/oak), the nose is a complex cornucopia of meatiness, smoke, cassis, and dark fruit. Medium bodied, the fruit forward palate ebbs into a well integrated tannins and acidity that guide you through to the lingering finish which offers a pleasant revisiting of the flavors on the nose. The most Pinotage like of the three wines reviewed here.
Retails Around $18
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