Pinotage is South Africa’s local grape. Regarded as the trump card of the local wine industry, pinotage is gaining international acceptance as a standalone varietal. Robust, versatile and capable of producing top quality red wines, growers in New Zealand, California, Australia, Brazil and Cyprus are planting the inky-red grape.

Did you know?

According to the Pinotage Association, pinotage is best stored between 10º and 16ºC, and best served between 16º and 18ºC.

Pinotage is a cross-pollination of two grape cultivars, pinot noir and cinsaut, formerly called 'hermitage'. Developed in 1925 by South African viticulturalist, the late Professor Abraham Izak Perold, pinotage was one of many experimental cross blends that were trialed at that time. In fact, the only four pinotage vines in existence almost ended up on the bonfire.

Fortunately for pinotage fans, the vines and their seedlings were rescued as they were about to be destroyed. These were later propagated (in 1941) at Welgevallen experimental nursery in Stellenbosch by Professor CJ Theron, who also produced the very first pinotage wine. Regrettably, Professor Perold died that same year without having a chance to taste the wine.

Today pinotage is one of the most widely planted red grape cultivars in South Africa. Robust and easy growing with good yields, pinotage is most planted in the regions of the Swartland/Darling, Stellenbosch, Paarl and Wellington - followed by Breedekloof, Worcester, Olifants River, and Robertson. Top producers include Kanonkop, KWV, Fairview, Beyerskloof, Clos Malverne, Anura, Altydgedagt, Kaapzicht, L’Avenir, Stellenzicht and Spier.

Styles of pinotage include wooded and unwooded, young and fruity, or rich and full bodied. Typically, pinotage makes up 30% of a Cape blend, and the wine also shows its enormous versatility by appearing in blanc de noir wines, fortified port-style sweet dessert wines, sparkling wines and brandies.

The typical characteristics of pinotage depend on the style in which it is produced. In turn this is dependent on the terroir, clone and rootstock, stage of ripening, and vinification of the grapes. In appearance, pinotage can vary from deep ruby to crimson to brick red.

Young pinotage typically exhibits plum and berry flavours. Certain wines have banana/mango or sweet spice aromas. Pinotage ages well for 10 years and more, and as it softens the wine develops a mellower profile with elements of prunes, cassis and blackberries. Maturation in oak barrels can add cedar, vanilla and toasted flavours to it.

In the past few years, prominent coffee/mocha flavours are being found in certain styles of pinotage wines. These emanate from a specific oak regime used during the vinification process. The first pinotage wine of this style was produced by Bertus Fourie at Diemersfontein in 2001, and 'coffee pinotage' as it is known has become a cult wine, with many imitators.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Pinotage Association of South Africa
Tel: +27 (0)21 863 1599

How to get here

The most popular pinotage growing areas have good road access. In more remote areas like Darling and Olifants River, it’s advisable to check vehicle access (sedan or 4X4) with the estate, especially after heavy rainfall.

Tours to do

Kanonkop and Beyerskloof wine farms, in the Stellenbosch district, have both made names for themselves based on their pinotage wines.

Get around

A car, motorbike and even a hot air balloon or helicopters are all options around Stellenbosch, Paarl and Robertson. A vehicle or tour bus is recommended for the outlying regions.

What will it cost

The cost of a bottle of pinotage can range from as little as R30 to R1200 for Kanonkop’s 2011 Black Label pinotage.

What's happening

Diemersfontein Wine hosts a series of 'Pinotage On Tap' festivals in Cape Town, Johannesburg and KwaZulu-Natal, usually in June. Visit its website for details.

Best buys

A few bottles of pinotage, of course.