Listen all y’all it’s a Pinotage

Chenin Blanc might be the most planted grape in South Africa but the true “native” South African variety is Pinotage. Why? Because it was invented in South Africa, back in 1925, and because it is hardly ever planted outside of the country, making it quintessentially South African. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a great wine for barbecuing, a staple of the South African way of life.

Pinotage was invented, the correct word is bred, in the XXth century in order to try and solve a problem. South African winemakers wanted to plant some Pinot Noir.  A fine idea, except Pinot Noir is a temperamental, hard to grow, fragile grape. Results were not good. Enters Abraham Izak Perold, professor of viticulture at Stellenbosch University (Stellenbosch is the premium wine growing region in the Cape). Mr Perold decided to tackle the Pinot Noir fragility by crossing it with Cinsault, another French grape, known for its robustness.

Mr. Perold, notice the hipster moustache

Mr. Perold, notice the hipster moustache

The idea was to keep some of the Pinot character while making the vines sturdied. The result was something completely new. Another happy accident if you want. Instead of blending characteristics from two French grapes, Perold ended up creating a new, distinct variety that had nothing to do with its parents.

Since Cinsault was called Hermitage in South Africa then, the portmanteau word Pinotage was created to describe this cross of Pinot and Hermitage. It is the signature South African grape, used in a lot of red blends but also to make varietal wines.

Pinotage grapes

Pinotage grapes

Pinotage has high acidity and strong tannins which gives it potential for ageing. Pinotage has somewhat of a bad reputation because it can easily develop unpleasant flavors, mostly acetone. Normal and more pleasant flavors include smoke, bramble fruits or even banana. It’s an earthy wine that goes well with grilled meat.

I only tasted some recently and I quite liked it, finding it very distinctive. I bought a couple bottles and I will try to form a more informed opinion.

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My winners from Wine Riot Boston

As promised, here are my four favorite wines from Wine Riot Boston. There is a little bit of everything, I tried to track the prices for each so that you can get an idea of the kind of wines there were at the event.

Douglas Green Rib Shack Red, Western Cape, South Africa

A blend of Shiraz and Pinotage (a South African variety known for its smoky flavor) that would be great with any red meat. Spice notes from the Shiraz, smoke notes from the Pinotage and a retail price around $11 make for a great value wine.

Rib Shack

Henkell Trocken Sekt, Germany

A German sparkling wine, Sekt means sparkling wine and Trocken means dry. A very good and fruitier alternative to Champagne for under $10. It was available at the “Bubbly Bar” along with Cava, Prosecco, Cremant and of course Champagne.

henkell trocken

90 + Cellars Lot 90 Rosso Toscana, Tuscany, Italy

This wine merchant has an interesting concept. They buy wine from premium wineries around the world, bottle and label them and sell them under their name, without naming the original winery. You trade knowing the actual wine maker for an arguably better price. Their Tuscan Red in any case is like drinking velvet. A bottle retails for $29 instead of $65 at the original winery.

Lot 90

Columbia Crest Grand Estate Chardonnay, Washington State, USA

A nice, clean, refreshing unoaked Chardonnay at $12. Not much to say about it except that it was one of the first wines I tried all night and I still remembered it as being good at the end, it must count for something !

GE Chardonnay

In other news, I took my Intermediate wine exam yesterday, it was a lot harder than I expected. The more you learn, the more you realize there is to learn. I still think I’ll get a passing grade but I need to step it up.