03 September 2010 by Robyn Campbell

The people’s pinotage

Pinotage is South Africa’s signature wine. A cross between Pinot Noir, a noble French grape variety, and the humble Hermitage grape.

Developed by Abraham Izak Perold, a professor of viticulture at Stellenbosch University in 1924; until 1959 the newborn varietal was simply referred to as ‘Perold’s Hermitage x Pinot’.

At the Cape Wine Shows of 1959 and 1961, when the pinotages of Bellevue and Kanonkop took top honours, the wine fraternity was in an uproar. How could this ‘illegitimate’ grape have beaten the classic red cultivars?

Fast forward to 2001, and, yet again, a pinotage has the wine fraternity’s tongues wagging. This time it’s Wellington wine farm Diemersfontein’s release of a pinotage, with exaggerated coffee-chocolate aromas, to be enjoyed very young.

Coffee/chocolate aromas are not typical of pinotage, or any other red cultivar for that matter, but are produced when heavily toasted oak staves are introduced intentionally into the wine making process - usually during malolactic fermentation.

Pinotage-makers, having won a hard-fought battle to have the cultivar taken seriously, were not amused.  Pinotage devotees denounced the wine as artificial, confected, and a cheap-shot marketing exercise.

Fast forward to 2001, and, yet again, a pinotage has the wine fraternity’s tongues wagging. This time it’s Wellington wine farm Diemersfontein’s release of a pinotage, with exaggerated coffee-chocolate aromas, to be enjoyed very young.

First-time pinotage drinkers, and those who were put-off previously by the acetone-type aromas produced by early attempts at pinotage-making, fell head-over-heels in love with the wine.

Fast forward to 2007, and Diemersfontein’s Coffee Pinotage, now dubbed ‘the people’s pinotage’, wins, or shares, first place for Best Red Wine on Show, for 4 consecutive years at RMB Winex Cape Town, one of the country’s biggest wine shows, and a reliable barometer of consumers tastes.

In the 2009 and 2010 editions of Platter’s Wines, effectively South Africa’s wine bible, Diemersfontein’s prodigal Coffee Pinotage received a 4/5-star rating.

Described by its winemaker as having ‘distinct coffee, rich dark chocolate and baked plums’ on the nose, this maverick wine has struck a chord with local red wine drinkers, and has done wonders for popularising the cultivar.

If you have (or have had) the opportunity to taste Diemersfontein Coffee Pinotage (not to be confused with their 4-star rated Carpe Diem Pinotage), drop me a note. I’d love to know your thoughts on the ‘people’s pinotage.’

Category: Food & Wine

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