Tasting Overview: Pinotage is a red grape a variety emblematic of South Africa but has made inroads to other regions in the world. A hybrid between Pinot Noir and Cinsault (Hermintage), hence its name, can produce bad to excellent wines depending on the vineyard and fruit cropping management and on the wine making techniques. It has had ups a downs as explained in the technical notes below but recently there are excellent Pinotage wines in the market. This is the result of wineries increased focus on quality rather than volume.
Pinotage is host to a wide variety of styles. This large spectrum includes cheap, light-bodied wines with strange aromas like paint, banana, rubber, and acetone. However, it also includes full-bodied wines that exhibit elegance, balance, and fully developed fruit flavors with a smoky, sweet finish. This tasting’s objective is to asses the features of the variety in two highly rated wines.
Type of Tasting: Open
Wine Presenter: Jaime Estupiñán
The reference wine is:
2016 Beaumont Pinotage, Walker Bay, South Africa
The presenter recommended another wine for comparison
2018 Neethlingshof Estate The Owl Post Pinotage, Stellenbosch, South Africa
The menu is up to each participant discretion
Information on the Wines
(The information below has been compiled from various internet sources) .
2016 Beaumont Pinotage, Walker Bay, South Africa
The Wine: Winemaker Notes. This is still an elegant style of Pinotage with red berry and ripe fruit flavors with fine tannins and lovely fruit on the palate. Matches very well with bobotie (a South African dish made with minced beef, curry and a savory custard), game and curries, spare ribs and pepper steak or try snoek and grape jam.
Tim Atkin (90 Pts): Located squarely at the fresher, lighter end of the Pinotage spectrum, this 10% new barrel aged is floral, appealing and well balanced, with some spice and subtle wood notes, smooth tannins and bright summer berry fruit. 2019-24.
Robert Parker: The nose of the 2016 Pinotage is mainly red-fruited, with a precise core that wafts with white and red spiced tea, fresh black cherry and dark dusty plum. The palate is honest with precision and focus not typically seen with Pinotage. The wine shows a remarkable balance of fruit, earth and florals, with a medium body. The finish is still grippy and lingers with well-structured tannins. There are none of the tones of the “funky Pinotage” to be found here. After fermentation in concrete tanks, the wine was moved into barrel and aged for 18 months. If you are not familiar with Beaumont, it is time to explore some of their wines. Sebastian Beaumont, owner/winemaker at Beaumont, has a talent for making unique and expressive wines in Bot River. Based in a historic building, with the original cellar built in the 18th century, Sebastian makes hand-crafted wines that show grace, elegance and focus. They are worth the out-of-the-way drive to visit. (AM)
The Winery: Beaumont is a family owned and managed farm situated in the heart of the town of Bot River (“Botter Rivier”) in the Overberg. The farm, home to the region’s oldest wine cellar, was originally established in the 1700’s by the Dutch East India Company. In the 1940’s the wine business was initially started but wine production was discontinued in the late 1960’s. Jayne and Raoul Beaumont bought the farm Compagnes Drift in 1974 and set about replanting the vineyards. However, the legacy of creating wines in the farm cellar under the family name was only initiated years later.
After generations of farming and partnering with nature, the land now offers some of the finest vineyards in the area. Together with a non-conformist approach to winemaking, these vines produce notably balanced, classical and artisanal wines. The farm also grows pears, almonds and olives surrounded by fynbos and abundant birdlife. It still supplies produce to visitors wanting fresh pears, apples, almonds and delicious olives. Beaumont Family Wines are proud members of the IPW, Global Gap and the BWI initiatives that encourage and support sustainable farming. Read more about the winery here: https://www.beaumont.co.za/
2018 Neethlingshof Estate The Owl Post Pinotage, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Total Wine: Ripe berry and banana aromas with vanilla oak perfumes give way to a rich and velvety palate of black cherry, plum and vanilla flavors. This single-vineyard Pinotage is excellent served with grilled meat, game, or hearty stews.
Tim Atkin 92 Pts.
Cell Tracker 91 Pts.
The Winery: The history of Neethlingshof Estate spans more than 300 years. In 1692, Willem Barend Lubbe, a German settler, began farming the site he had been granted by Governor of the Cape Simon van der Stel on the Bottelary Hills overlooking False Bay. He named the farm De Wolwedans, “The Dance of Wolves”, having mistaken for wolves the packs of jackals roaming the countryside. Since 2003 Neethlingshof is following an active biodiversity orientated strategy in its farming practices.
The farm has 8 distinguishable terroirs, each of them characterised by unique slopes, aspects and altitudes and inducing different phenological, physiological and growth pattern reactions in the vine. These occur on a complex soil type pattern. Most soil types, e.g. Tukulu and Oakleaf, are of high to very high potential for viticulture, but a relatively small percentage of medium to low potential soils, e.g. Kroonstad and Katspruit, also occur. The latter soils are mainly used for grazing while the better soils are planted to vineyards.
The predominant climate aspects are South and South-west (open to cool sea breezes every afternoon). Clearly the locality of Neethlingshof enables cool sea breezes from both the Indian and Atlantic oceans to penetrate the vineyards and cool down the grapes during hot summer days. The subsequent slow ripening processes enable all grape components to reach full maturity.
The different grape varietals grown on the farm are: Red: Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Shiraz White: Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Weisser Riesling, Chenin Blanc
Read more about the winery here: https://neethlingshof.co.za/
Other Wines Tasted
Two participants recomended the follwoing wines:
2018 Kaapzicht Pinotage. Dark deep depth of black plum with an opulent, slightly reductive nose of black cherry, mulberry and stewed plum. The oak is very subtle and integrated playing to the strengths of the fruit purity and precision emphasising the wines wild edge. Texturally there is impressive focus, balanced finesse and a classy, cool, elegant mouthfeel punctuated with soft supple black fruits and oak spice. This is an impressive expression of this uniquely South African variety.
2018 Seaward Pinotage, 2018, Stellenbosh. This Pinotage emphasizes elegance in its dark ruby color with aromas of roasted almonds, fresh cherries, hints of tobacco and a soft creamy palate. A perfect selection to pair with meat, poultry and roasted vegetables.
Compiled by Jairo Sanchez, Jaime Estupiñán and Alfonso Sánchez
THE WINES OF SOUTH AFRICA
South Africa’s wine production is concentrated in the southwestern tip of the country and more specifically within a radius of about 60 km around Cape Town (Western Cape Province).. The climate of this region is much cooler than other places in the world at the same latitude due to the cold Atlantic Benguela current that bathes its coasts. The result is a typically Mediterranean climate with cold and rainy winters and hot. summers. The proximity to the sea softens these extremes. The mountain ranges of the region channel the dry and cold winds of the southeast (Cape Doctor) that moderate the climate and minimize fungal infections, although sometimes they also damage the vineyards.
You can see a map of the wine regions of South Africa here: https://wandercurtis.com/south-africa-map/
The Biodiversity and Wine Initiative seeks to maintain the balance between the rich regional ecosystem and wine production by managing crops that preserve natural vegetation and promote the eco-tourism. This increases the costs wines that must compete based on quality. After the end of “apartheid” and international sanctions, the industry has had outstanding development in terms of quality and volume. All grape varieties grown in South Africa were imported from Europe and are therefore very prone to phylloxera. That is why they are currently grafted into American stock resistant to this insect. There are 11 wine regions in the area among which the main ones are Stellenbosch and Paarl followed by Oliphant River (Chenin Blanc, Colombard) and Klein Karoo (port and fortified Muscatel wines).
It is worth mentioning two types of special wines from South Africa. One is ROODEBERG, made only in South Africa (in Paarl) that exhibits a ruby, garnet colors. It has been produced for 50 years or more and is the result of mixtures of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz. Aromas of red fruits, grass and tobacco. Strong in tannins, somewhat astringent. The other is the PINOTAGE, a variety created in 1925, by the hybridization of the Pinot Noir and Cinsault strains (also called Hermitage – hence the name Pinotage).). This variety is characteristic of South Africa and has become the symbol of the country’s wines even though it is not the most cultivated variety.
Stellenboch, about 45 km east of Cape Town is the capital of South African wines where50% of the wineries are found. The region produces the most famous reds in the country. The city is home to the South African Academy of Wine.
The Soils. The soils are residual decomposed granite and sandstone and well drained. The mountainous topography to the east produces a wide variety of soils and microclimates but the wines do not exhibit the characteristics of “terroir” because they almost always come from mixtures of grapes from various places.
The Climate. A mediterranean climate with adequate amounts of rain and slightly warmer summers than those in Bordeaux. That is why Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz are surpassing the Chenin Blanc which was the predominant grape in the sub-region. The types of wine are more like those of the old world (Bordeaux type) than the varietals of the new world. There is no need for irrigation in this sub-region and therefore production per hectare is lower with a higher concentration of flavors than in the others.
Varieties. Mostly the French varieties mentioned above are grown in addition to Pinotage, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay in the colder areas.
This is the northernest sub-region of West Cape and comprises the river valley that gives it its name. Its main agriculture is citrus. It produces grapes in bulk mainly for distillation of juices by cooperative companies (Vredendal which is the largest, processes 40,000 tons of grapes annually). The region also produces wines for export.
The Soils: Soil profile ranges from sandy alluvials (near the river) to alluvium with gravel, silt, and clay on the slopes. The latter produce the best reds while the sandy ones are excellent for whites.
The Climate: Due to its location, the climate is more influenced by the Atlantic and is milder than in other sub-regions with sunny and misty days.
Varieties:The main ones are Merlot, Pinotage, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chenin Blanc.
THE PINOTAGE GRAPE
Pinotage is the South Africa’s signature red grape variety and its contribution to the history of the vinifera vine. It is Pinot Noir and Cinsault also called Hermitage. Hence the name Pinotage. It typically produces deep red wines with smoky, blackberry and earthy flavors, sometimes smelling to acetone.
The Birth of a Grape: Pinotage grape variety was created in South Africa in 1925 by Abraham Izak Perold, the first Professor of Viticulture at Stellenbosch University. Perold was attempting to combine the best qualities of the robust Hermitage with Pinot Noir, a grape that makes great wine but can be difficult to grow it up. The first wine was made in 1941 at the first commercial plantings at Myrtle Grove near Sir Lowry’s Pass. The first recognition came when a Bellevue wine made from Pinotage became the champion wine at the Cape Wine Show of 1959. The Bellevue wine would become the first to mention Pinotage on its label in 1961.This early success, and its easy viticulture, prompted a wave of planting during the 1960s.
The Ups and Downs of Pinotage. Despite the reputation for easy cultivation, the Pinotage has the tendency to develop isoamyl acetate during winemaking resulting in a sweet pungency that often smells like paint. A group of British Masters of Wine visiting in 1976 were unimpressed by Pinotage, calling the nose “hot and horrible” and comparing the taste to “rusty nails.
The grape has seen its plantings rise and fall due to the current fashion of the South African wine industry. In the early 1990s, after the end of Apartheid, the world’s wine market was opening to South Africa wine and winemakers ignored Pinotage in favor of more internationally recognized varieties like Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Towards the end of the 20th century, the grape’s fortunes began to turn, and by 1997 it commanded higher prices than any other South African grape.
It has been suggested that part of some South African winemakers’ disdain for Pinotage stems from the fact that it is a distinctly New World wine while the trend for South African wine is to reflect more European influences and flavors. Despite being a cross from a Burgundy and Rhône grape, Pinotage reflects none of the flavors of a French wine. While not a critique itself, outside of small plantings most notably in New Zealand and the United States, Pinotage has yet to develop a significant presence in any other wine region.
Pinotage grapes grow quickly, and they’re easy to cultivate with very little maintenance. This led many producers to make commercial wines of very low quality that didn’t taste very good but were cheap. They stretched their grapes as far as they would go to sell more wine and make more money, which led to the idea that Pinotage wine wasn’t very good
Pinotage remained relatively obscure internationally until Beyers Truter from Kanonkop won the 1987 Diner’s Club Wine of the year for his Pinotage. Pinotage has since experienced a renaissance in South Africa, with an increasing number of producers exploring a bright and juicy expression of the variety that shows off the fruit rather than oak and showing real finesse with less ripe extraction.
From 2007 to 2017, the quality, demand, and supply of Pinotage grew significantly. From around 3 million liters of Pinotage a year at the turn of the century, domestic sales have increased to over 5 million liters, and exports since 2001 have gone from just over 8 million liters a year to close on 19 million liters.
Where is it Grown. The majority of the world’s plantings of Pinotage are in South Africa, where it makes up 6% of the vineyard area and is considered a symbol of the country’s distinctive winemaking traditions. It is a required component (30-70%) in “Cape Blends”. Here it is made into the full range of styles, from easy-drinking wine and rosé to barrel-aged wine intended for cellaring. It is also made into a fortified ‘Port wine’ style, and even a red sparkling wine. The grape is very dependent on the skill and style of winemaking, with well-made examples having the potential to produce deep colored, fruity wines that can be accessible early as well as age
In addition to South Africa, Pinotage is also grown in Brazil, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, United States and Zimbabwe. In New Zealand, there are 94 acres (38 ha) of Pinotage. In the US, there are plantings in Arizona, California, Michigan, Oregon and Virginia. German winemakers have recently begun experimenting with the grape.
How it is Grown The vines are vigorous like their parent Cinsaut and easy to grow, ripening early with high sugar levels. Pinotage can be grown via the trellised system or as bush vines (untrellised). The older Pinotage vineyards are predominantly planted as bush vines and it is perceived that these lend to more concentration of fruit and depth to the wine. It has the potential to produce yields of 120 hl/ha (6.8 tons/acre) but older vines tend to lower their yields to as low as 50 hl/ha. Yield restriction is managed through water stress and bunch thinning. In winemaking, controlling the coarseness of the grape and the isoamyl acetate character are two important considerations. Volatile acidity is another potential wine fault that can cause Pinotage to taste like raspberry vinegar. Since the 1990s, more winemakers have used long and cool fermentation periods to minimize the volatile esters as well as exposure to French and American oak. The grape is naturally high in tannins which can be tamed with limited maceration time but reducing the skin contact can also reduce some of the berry fruit character that Pinotage can produce. Some winemakers have experimented with letting the grapes get very ripe prior to harvest followed by limited oak exposures as another means of taming the more negative characteristics of the grape while maintaining its fruitiness.
Paring. If you love a bold barbecue-friendly wine, Pinotage wine is worth investigating.
What a Great Pinotage Tastes Like:
Pinotage association member and winemaker Danie Steytler Jr. says it’s common to find purple fruits and black fruits in Pinotage, but occasionally you’ll taste amazing red fruit flavors of raspberry, red licorice and even red bell pepper (on optimal vintages).
On great bottles of Pinotage, you will be delighted by the flavors other than fruit. A wide array of other flavors includes rooibos, dried leaves, bacon, sweet and sour sauce, hoisin and sweet pipe tobacco.
You should expect tannins to be bold but to have a sweet note on the finish –almost like flavored smoke. As far as acidity is concerned, the grape is typically high pH (low acidity) so most winemakers will acidify their wines early in the fermentation process, so the acids are more integrated. Many wineries in hot climates, including California, Australia, and Argentina, acidify their wines. Well-integrated acidification is unnoticeable although some tasters appear to be more sensitive to this trait than others
Pinotage can go very wrong because it is so volatile. When it is bad, it will smell very pungent and sharp, almost like nail polish remover. This smell is a clue that the wine has high levels of Volatile Acidity (VA) which is caused by a high proportion of a ‘bad acid’ called acetic acid. Besides the sharp smell, some of the wines can become over-extracted which is a process where the wine spends too long on the skins and seeds. Over-extracting Pinotage will make the wine taste like burnt tar.
Pinotage Profile (1 to 5 scale)
Body 5; Sweetness 1; Tannins 4; Acidity 1; Alcohol 5
How to drink Pinotage Wine: Decant 60+ minutes. Cellar: 5-15 years
Sources:The Oxford Companion to Wine, Jancis Robinson & Julia Harding, Wine Folly, the Master Guide, Magnum Edition. Madeline Puckette and Justing Hammack, WineFolly.Com