What is Pinotage and How was it Discovered?
The discovery of Pinotage is quite an interesting story as it was almost forgotten about, and if that had been the case, we may not be enjoying this varietal today. The varietal was formed by a chemistry doctor, Dr Abraham Izak Perold, in 1925 when he crossed the Pinot Noir varietal with the Cinsault varietal. It is unclear why he made this match but Cinsault at the time was producing larger yields than Pinot Noir and so the assumption is that he intended to create a varietal that retains the taste of Pinot Noir, yet produces more fruit.
Dr Perold (who later went on to become Professor) then planted the four seeds he had created into his own garden, where he left them to grow. Years later, his garden was quite overgrown and was due to be cleaned out – the Pinotage vines included. Fortunately, a Dr Charlie Niehaus recovered the four seedlings before this could happen, informed Dr Perold, and the two men then re-established them at the Elsenberg Agricultural College under the guidance of Prof CJ Theron.
How did Pinotage get its name?
It was Prof CJ Theron, along with Dr Perold, who gave Pinotage its name. The name is quite simply derived from the two varietals: “Pino” is from the varietal Pinot Noir and “…tage” is from the varietal Hermitage. For some reason, the varietal Cinsault was known as Hermitage here in South Africa, which was strange because Hermitage is not actually a varietal, but is an appellation from Northern Rhône where Syrah is typically grown, and not Cinsault. However, the name Pinotage was formed and has since become synonymous with South Africa.
Why is Lanzerac the Pioneer of Pinotage?
In 1959, South Africa became recognized for our Pinotage at the Cape Wine Show when Bellevue’s Pinotage grabbed the attention of those in attendance as it was declared the champion wine. But it is Lanzerac who were the first estate to add the name “Pinotage” onto their label. This occurred in 1961 when the Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery sold the Bellevue’s 1959 vintage of Pinotage under the Lanzerac name. Lanzerac thus became the first winery in the world to add the Pinotage varietal onto their label, thus putting South Africa on the map with our unique varietal.
Due to Lanzerac’s success, Stellenbosch became a popular area for wine farmers to start planting their own vines. It is the ideal spot to grow good quality wine as the winters are cold and (usually) wet and the summers are hot and dry, allowing the fruit to fully ripen. The terrain is mountainous, the soils are typically well-drained, and the terroirs are relatively diverse and so Stellenbosch is the wine region where most of South Africa’s Pinotage is grown.
Today, Lanzerac still produces good quality Pinotage under the guidance of the Cellar Master, Wynand Lategan, and the Viticulturist, Danie Malherbe. Despite the fact that Lanzerac is of course also producing other varietals today, they have become known as the Pioneer of Pinotage and their Pinotage as well as their Pinotage Rosé are popular among the locals.
What are the Flavours of Pinotage?
Pinotage has a typical ruby colour and can be quite fruity. It is common to find black fruit flavours in the wine but red fruit flavours, such as raspberry, can also be found. With age, Pinotage can also develop tobacco flavours and the addition of oak can bring about chocolate or coffee aromas.
Being a South African wine, Pinotage pairs well with a typical South African “braai”, but it also goes wonderfully with roast meats and Italian dishes. Although it is full-bodied it can also have medium tannins and so you could also pair it with leaner meats, making it quite versatile.