Everything You Need to Know About Pinotage Wines

Pinotage is South Africa's signature varietal. Learn more about this flavourful, deep red wine – and Alvi's Drift's various award-winning Pinotage wines.

Everything You Need to Know About Pinotage Wines

The story of Pinotage dates all the way back to 1925 when Prof. Abraham Perold, Stellenbosch University’s first professor of viticulture, successfully combined Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (then called Hermitage) in his garden.

This happened after Perold noticed that Pinot Noir grapes were growing poorly in the South African climate. Hoping to create a more robust grape that still has the delicious flavours of Pinot Noir, Perold crossed Cinsaut with Pinot Noir. This crossing resulted in Pinotage, a bold-flavoured, unexpectedly dark grape high in both tannin and anthocyanin.

Prof. Perold’s efforts produced only four precious Pinotage seedlings, and 16 years later, in 1941, winemaking pioneer and Stellenbosch University lecturer CT de Waal produced the first-ever barrel of Pinotage wine.

Although Pinotage turned out to be such an unusual grape, it was initially used by South African wine producers to create rather low-quality commercial wines. However, this varietal would, over time, become the 2nd-most widely planted grape in its country of origin.

Today Pinotage has a very different reputation. South African winemakers now recognise that Pinotage is a complex grape cultivar – and that transforming it into excellent wine is no easy feat.


“We invest a lot of time in optimising our Pinotage vineyards. We believe in being very gentle in the winemaking process to ensure that we bring forth those trademark fresh fruit characters of the wine.” - Alvi van der Merwe


Alvi’s Drift’s Pinotage wines are characteristically soft and well-rounded, with acidity on the lower side.


What Are the Characteristics of Pinotage?

Fruit-driven and earthy, Pinotage boasts somewhat higher levels of alcohol than your typical red wine. As mentioned, this dry, full-bodied varietal is also characteristically high in tannin. In fact, Pinotage skins have such an abundance of tannin, cyanidin and anthocyanin that many local winemakers opt to ferment this wine fast and hot (so reducing the rigid tannins), after which they complete fermentation separated from the skins.

Another characteristic of Pinotage is its exceptional age-worthiness. The wine can, of course, be enjoyed fresh, but if it has sufficient structure, it has the potential to be aged for ten years or more.


Pinotage: Styles, Flavours and Aromas

Typically, Pinotage vines yield high-sugar grapes that make for medium to full-bodied wines bursting with dark, ripe fruit flavours that include black plum, blackberry, fig, and cherry, with trademark bold, jammy flavours. Younger Pinotage wines often boast beautiful hints of red berry, including strawberry and raspberry, while older Pinotages boast flavours superbly rich, savoury and spicy, delivering complex notes of smoke, leather, tobacco and even liquorice.


“That's the essence of the Verreaux and all our Pinotage wines, those beautiful, dominant fruit flavours.”


What really distinguishes this dark, deep-purple variety is a typical smokiness that presents both on the palate and the nose. Common trademark notes of this variety include anise, oak, red pepper, tar, soy sauce and bacon.

In South Africa, Pinotage grapes ripen easily and early in the season. This varietal is often blended with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to create a so-called ‘Cape Blend’.

Pinotage is an excellent companion to red meats such as lamb, beef and venison.


Pairing Pinotage with Food

Medium-bodied Pinotage wines lend themselves to lighter wintertime foods, like bean or oxtail soup, as well as game fish and hearty grilled vegetables such as mushrooms, eggplant, beets and bell peppers.

Full-bodied Pinotage wines will complement rich, darker meats such as game, roast lamb and oxtail stews. Our Alvi’s Drift Verreaux Pinotage is best enjoyed with roast venison, grilled steak or duck.

Need some inspiration? Find out how Pinotage enhances this delicious oxtail recipe, perfect for wintertime enjoyment.


International Pinotage Day

International Pinotage Day is celebrated every year on the second Saturday of October. On this day specially designated to honour South Africa’s signature red wine varietal, various wine estates around the globe pay tribute to this uniquely South African cultivar. If you are a Pinotage enthusiast, do have a look online to see where you can join in the celebrations at a venue near you.

Alvi’s Drift winery produces a number of award-winning Pinotage wines.


Alvi’s Drift’s Pinotage Wines

Unsurprisingly, our head winemaker, who loves nothing more than a challenge, earmarked Pinotage to be our third-generation winery’s flagship wine.

Both our 221 range and our entry-level Signature range (in Alvi’s words, “think great for the price of good”) offer superb Pinotage wines, with the Signature range also home to our very popular, multi-award-winning Pinotage Rosé.

Yet, it is in our flagship Verreaux range that the jewel in our Breede River Valley cellar’s crown can be found.


“We use a variety of oak barrels, mostly tight-grain American oak with just a small percentage of open-grain oak. We also use European oak, and our focus is always to preserve the pure fruit flavours of the berries.”


Read our interview with winemaker Alvi van der Merwe about one of his favourite varietals, Pinotage, here.


Meet Our Flagship Wine: Verreaux Pinotage

Created only in small volumes, our Verreaux Pinotage has an intense, dark purple colour. Boasting robust tannins and notes of juicy plum and ripe black cherry, the wine also offers complex flavours of nut, vanilla and spice, which complement the fruit. Blended from hand-picked barrels, this is a medium to full-bodied wine that will reach its full potential within 8-10 years of cellar maturation.


Shop Online for Our Award-Winning Alvi’s Drift Pinotage Wines

Want to sample our delectable, much-awarded Pinotage wines for yourself? Visit our online shop to find your favourite, and have it delivered straight to your door!

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