Monday, June 14, 2010


Last Thursday we did a Unique Varietal tasting at Cru Wine Online. We sampled wine made from fun grapes like Albarino, Verdejo, Chenin Blanc, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah and Pinotage. I will admit to you I'm not the biggest fan of Pinotage, I think it tastes icky. And I am sure by this point in the blog you are either thinking "What is Pinotage?", "I'm not either" or "You haven't tried a good one." For those of you that aren't fans, I get it. For those of you that don't know the grape, it's South Africa's bread and butter red varietal (grape).

Pinotage is a beefy red grape that was created in a laboratory in South Africa. A Stellenbosch University professor named A. I. Perold crossed Pinot Noir and Cinsault. He then went about his business and forgot about it. After he retired it was discovered and it wasn't until 35 years after he 'created' the grape it became popular and people began planting it all over the country. It was hardy, it could stand up to the heat and weather of South Africa and it was distinguishable. The name comes from the Pinot Noir and Cinsault cross. Cinsault was commonly called Hermitage because it was grown in the Hermitage region of France in the Rhone. (Pinot-tage, get it).

The grape is often described as being medium to full bodied, spicy and displaying aromas of tar, band-aid and/or burnt rubber. It tastes very similar to how it smells. Many commercial examples exist and the grape for some reason continues to be produced. It's a flagship varietal in South Africa and South African's are incredibly protective of it.

I spoke with a South African woman at a wine shop two weeks ago that was trying to turn me on to Pinotage. She said "Pinotage get's a bad rap in this country." I didn't have the heart to tell her it's because it makes terrible wine. She went on to tell me about how wonderfully it paired with ribs or meat off the grill. I thought to myself, yeah, when the food overpowers the flavor of the wine and all you are left with is the dish lingering in your mouth.

For those of you at the beginning of this post that thought I haven't tried many you are right. I have maybe had 20, certainly not enough to express the many producers who grow and vinify it. Many of the brands I have tasted stateside are major players in the South African wine market with a couple of small, artisan producers thrown in there. Most of the other varietals that the producers made that I tasted I like, but when Pinotage comes out, I cringe. I didn't always have a blind hatred for the grape, I wanted to try one that I liked, I wanted to prove my colleagues wrong, but I always come up with the same result.

The closest example I have found to palatable Pinotage is the Robertson Winery. It's super juicy and fruit forward and many of the earth tones (rubber band, tar, etc) are overpowered. So you could say that the only Pinotage I like tastes very little like Pinotage. It would be like drinking Mark West Pinot Noir because you like Pinot Noir, oh no he didn't! (Mark West Pinot Noir is likely 25% Syrah or something masking the low quality Pinot Noir grapes harvested to make this big seller. I'm not saying Mark West Pinot Noir isn't fine, it just isn't Pinot Noir, the grape is too light and the 25% "something else" masks the Pinot characteristics).

So to sum it all up, I am not a fan of Pinotage, but I would like to be. I like South African wines, I think there are some really cool wines being produced there, especially in Stellenbosch. I don't want to hear your Pinotage suggestions that I should try. I don't want to hear them not because I'm stubborn, but because I don't want to spend another penny tasting it. And I don't want to ruin another night brushing my teeth over and over again to get the taste out of my mouth. If you're confident of your suggestion send it out to me and I will taste it. If I like it, I will buy it from you.

For the Pinotage lovers of the world I say, I am sorry. But I have some great news! There will be plenty left over for you because I won't drink my share. Until next time thanks for reading and if you haven't heard Cru Wine Online has launched their full service website. Visit our website for a 7 day FREE trial to check out all the resources and fun we have.

Nicholas Barth
Certified Sommelier
Wine Director
Cru Wine Online

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