Wine 22: Pinotage

Have you experienced Pinotage yet? If not, you should. This is a grape varietal created in South Africa not even 100 years ago, and one which symbolizes their distinctive winemaking traditions. It is one of the varietals required to be included in any ‘Cape Blends’ produced in South Africa, and is also used to make more ‘everyday drinking wine,’ as well as rosé, fortified, or sparkling wines. 

Pinotage is the brain – and viticulture – child of Professor Abraham Perold from Stellenbosch University who was tasked by the Cape government with expanding South Africa’s grape offerings (aka, bring on the diversity). After proposing over one hundred varietals they weren’t exactly ecstatic about, Professor Perold decided to take things into his own hands and create a new varietal which would flourish in the South African climate, while yielding a flavorful and bold wine. Enter the two beaming parents: pinot noir and cinsault (also known as Hermitage)! It was the product of these two varietals – the former being a finicky grape that requires a lot of love to grow but has a well-loved flavor, the latter being a grape which is quite easy to grow – that resulted in a varietal that many took hold of, quite literally.

The love child of these two grapes – almost called Herminoir! – produced an extremely dark-skinned grape, which typically ripens early and has high sugar levels (which leads to higher alcohol levels). Vineyards that grow Pinotage can choose to trellis the vines or leave them untrellised, often referred to as ‘bushvines.’ Some think that it’s these untrellised vines which produce wines that are more heavy with fruit and have a greater depth.

Tannins abound in this grape – which I expected from its dark skin – which sometimes means the winemakers limit the skin to juice contact (maceration) time so the tannins aren’t as harsh. But keep in mind that limiting maceration time also can decrease the fruit characteristics of the wine itself, which wouldn’t do much to help keep its reputation of being a fruit forward wine. Another way winemakers can soften the tannins, which I think we’ve discussed before, is to age the wine in newer oak barrels.

This grape isn’t without its issues though. There are a few faults that tend to present themselves in Pinotage: volatile acidity and isoamyl acetate. Volatile acidity is something which occurs and tends to change the wine to have a vinegar-like taste. To avoid this, winemakers have played around with varied fermentation temperatures (something that was news to me!) and also employing the use of French and American oak barrels. As for isoamyl acetate, this can make your wine smell like paint. Yuck. It can also make your wine taste like bananas…double yuck. It, too, affects the esters in the compounds found in wine. Much of the literature I found speaks at a very scientific level about this topic, which didn’t make understanding it any easier, but needless to say it has damaging effects on the wine.

Apologies for letting that take a pretty sour – pun intended – turn, but I had to mention it. Regardless, I think the positive things I’ve read and heard about Pinotage far outweigh the negative, and, after all, this is the year of trying new varietals for me!

For this particular post, I popped open a bottle I received in my May shipment from Bright Cellars: 2017 Indulu Pinotage from the Western Cape of South Africa, which has 13.2% ABV.


This is still a pretty young wine, though I have seen many other wines of the 2017 vintage on shelves at local stores. I always look at the vintage year, because it gives me a sense of how long wines have been aged…some, as we already reviewed, aren’t meant to age more than a month or so, so they undergo a very quick progression from harvest to bottle to shelves. Seeing 2017 wines on the shelves leads me to believe that the aging process is probably only around 6-8 months or so, depending on when the harvest occurred. (Consider that some wines are aged a year or more before being bottled!) So with that, let’s taste:

Appearance: I’d call this one a medium, ruby-red, though at first I was inclined to say it was ‘pure red,’ which carried slightly more pink undertones. The color thins toward the edges of the glass.

Nose: My mom, who was my tasting buddy, and I both picked up on a lot of red currant and cranberry aromas, and I thought I smelled something akin to the pink Starbucks hibiscus tea. Odd, but a pleasantly floral aroma. The bouquet very much focused on some of the brighter red fruits.

Taste: An intensely bright fruit flavor, carrying what was on the nose in terms of the red fruits, into the palate. For me, this had more of a medium-bodied feel rather than the expected full-bodied. It had higher acidity and tannin levels, but the tannins were short-lived. I also picked up on an earthy or pine-y note in the back of my throat after each sip.

Overall: This was definitely an interesting pick. I haven’t really had an opportunity to delve into South African wines, and I know that there is a lot more where this came from! For it’s redder fruits, I’d say this could easily be more of an outdoor wine, one you just pick up and pour when hanging out in the fresh air. It was a lot more acidic than I expected, and I wonder, if I had aerated this wine or just let it sit for a bit, if it would have mellowed things out a bit.

**Update: confirmation by my mom that after another day of being open, the acidity in this wine did, in fact, mellow out and created a smoother, rounder mouthfeel. 

A few of the cool sites I visited to compile this info:

As the South Africans would say, Akubekuhle!!

4 thoughts on “Wine 22: Pinotage

  1. Sharon Kinard says:

    Thank you for the review, Jamie. This is my first pinotage, also from Bright Cellars, and I’m pretty new to purposeful wine tasting, so you helped me understand what I was tasting. I found letting this one breathe really helped. The first sip was incredibly juicy and fruity, even sweet, which I loved, but subsequent tastes were somewhat disappointing. I had to keep leaving and coming back to it… Anyway, was that earthy piney finish you experienced that I also did due to oaking? I can’t find detailed info about this wine.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jamie L says:

      Sharon, I’m so glad my post could help a fellow wine-lover! It’s funny how a couple hours sitting in a glass, or even keeping the bottle open for a day or so can change the flavor. As for the earthiness – that could definitely be a result of oaking, but it could also just be something resulting from the terroir and soil where the grapes are grown. I think it’d be interesting to try another pinotage to see how it compares, especially if you’re really paying attention to how you taste and purposefully trying to tease out what you experience. Thanks for reading and please continue to share your own wine adventures! Cheers!


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