30 May Pinotage and everything after
What if anything, would life be without Pinotage?
Sure the French are famous for their Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes, Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Domaine Romanée Conti and of course their real Champagne – and Italy smash the ranks with their fabulous Gattinara, Chianti Classico, Barbera d’Asti and Lambrusco – but how about how the world sees us with regard to Pinotage?
The history of Pinotage in South Africa is probably one of the most profound and interesting stories about how a new cultivar came to be, not without its fair share of almost unbelievable coincidences and fairytale-like endings. Pinotage is a uniquely South African grape varietal and certainly something we as South Africans can proudly boast about!
It all began with a man by the name of Abraham Isak Perold (20.10.1880 – 11.12.1941), who arrived in the Cape during the year of 1814, as a prisoner of war.
Mr Perold matriculated at the Boys’ High School in Wellington in 1898 and obtained a degree in maths, physics and Chemistry in 1901. With his impressive intellectual capacity and the good fortune of a bursary he then ventured back overseas to continue his studies and obtained a Ph.D. in Chemistry at the University of Halle an der Saale, in Germany.
Not too long after this Mr Perold was appointed as a temporary professor in Chemistry at the University of Cape Town and during this time the Government would send him on various trips abroad with the task of collecting grape varieties that could effectively be farmed in the Cape. Being the impressive enthusiast that he was, he returned with over 170 varieties with which he then established an experimental farm at the University of Stellenbosch. It wasn’t long after this that Mr Perold was appointed as the first-ever professor of Viticulture at Stellenbosch University – and would later become the Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture. Just by this one can see that he had the makings of a genius – and hence something great was sure to come of it…
It literally stemmed from a hybrid. Although some would have termed him a rather “mad professor” when he chose to marry such unusual breeding parents for the new varietal he had in mind, but this was a man who deeply understood the finer characteristics of vines and their extended potential. He chose Pinot Noir (a highly acclaimed French red grape varietal) and a rather humble lesser-known variety at the time, named Hermitage (also known as Cinsaut) to form the genetic basis of his new cultivar. Pinotage however did not yet receive its official name at that point, since without leaving so much as a scribbled note, no one will ever really know what the professors true intentions were for this ingenious combination.
The birth of Pinotage wasn’t an easy one either.
In fact the fusion of the Pinot Noir and Hermitage only produced 4 seeds – and not thousands as would normally be the case. Fortunately Mr Perold then planted these seeds in the garden of his then residence at Welgevallen as opposed to in the grounds of the University! Why, one cannot help but ask – was he keeping a great secret…?
Then they nearly died! As history unfolded, Mr Perold later joined KWV in Paarl and moved away from Welgevallen, leaving his home and the baby vines unoccupied and unattended for quite some time to follow. It was only once the University noticed that his garden had become rather overgrown and desperately required some attention that they decided to send in a team to clean it up a little.
Fortunately, someone knew about those seedlings and the young vines that were left behind, and that was none other than Dr Charlie Niehaus (icon of SA Sherry) who was but a young lecturer at the time. Apparently it was pure fluke that he happened to cycle past Mr Perolds’ old house, just at the very time that the clean-up team where about to fork anything and everything from the ground! He managed to save the young vines just in time and together with Professor CJ Theron they replanted these young vines at the Elsenburg Agricultural College.
Believe it or not, that was not to be the last near-death experience for our cherished Pinotage either.
Not long after its arrival at Elsenburg, a grafting of the Pinotage seedlings on new rootstock nearly meant another bitter end! Several of the older rootstock varieties were sadly infected by such an aggressive viral disease that resulted in their termination, but fortunately the Pinotage survived unaffected!
It was at this point that the crazy story of these surviving vines came to call their originator. Professor Perold was so ecstatic at the incredible resistance to disease and obvious possibilities that these young vines displayed, that he and professor Theron there and then combined the names of the parent cultivars to officially give Pinotage its name!
Thereafter, the first official Pinotage vineyards were established at Elsenburg and the first Pinotage wine was produced in small casks in 1941. The first official Pinotage wine label was launched by the Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery, produced from the 1959 harvest of Bellevue and called Lanzerac Pinotage.
Where is Pinotage in the World today?
After some careful farming and skilful production of Pinotage, wine judges around the world began to sing the praises of Pinotage – and it was not uncommon to hear them referring to this cultivar as an “excellent wine” or “a grape variety with tremendous potential”. The future of Pinotage began to look bright and the cultivar continued to enjoy some much-deserved global attention. After some respected South African producers took this varietal to even higher levels through their international awards and acclaim, a separate category was created for this variety and in so doing bringing it to equal levels with traditional European varietals! Proudly, our Pinotage has only gone from strength to strength ever since.
Today Pinotage is one of the most planted local cultivars and boasts an honourable reputation as a unique red wine that is rather easily distinguished from other red cultivars. Though Pinotage is a rather robust cultivar out on the vines, it does require a rather delicate handling in production, and hence our winemakers who have produced a successful Pinotage are highly admired and respected for it.
How does Pinotage pair with food?
Amongst those varieties of wine that one would happily use for cooking, it would likely have to be an “al cheapo” or entry-level blend of sorts before we use a Pinotage! Not that Pinotage isn’t fantastic in food – but Pinotage is simply so fantastic with food! It is perhaps somewhat unfortunate for some wines to automatically fall into the often scrutinised class of “a cooking wine” – because often a good wine makes an even better meal! But in domestic truth it’s perhaps more often than not, the iffy ones you’d rather cook with – than drink!
Pinotage with its loaded character profile is such a versatile wine with food – and coming from South Africa with its kaleidoscope of flavours – this should not leave any wonder! Just like most other red varietals, Pinotage comes in various styles, some quite fruity and soft whilst others can be quite hearty and a lot more complex. This again is such a fortunate character for a wine when it comes to pairing with food, as the differences in style allow you to play with a greater variety of different dishes while still enjoying your favourite red wine.
Some of the dishes you may pair with a lighter-style of Pinotage will include:
- Flavourful pasta dishes like Lasagne,
- Beef Ragu, Bolognaise,
- meaty pizzas,
- light Mexican cuisine and
- definitely with a variety of typical South African braai dishes and potjie-kos. (You almost can’t go wrong there)
A fuller-bodied Pinotage however, will pair well with meals like
- rich roasts,
- venison and
- saucy sosaties! (again the braai pops up)
Keep in mind that Pinotage can certainly also play a fair game with spicy dishes and therefore hot curries and spicy Indian cuisine can often prove to be a match made in gastronomical heaven when paired with a suitable Pinotage.
Furthermore, you can also enjoy a Pinotage with a variety of “social foods”; and the likes of your
- savoury canapés,
- matured cheese
and such may well be enhanced by a glass of this delectable vino.
Did they just say “Best drunk young?”
We thought that too when we were young adults… but that’s not what we’re referring to here. From time to time you may well come across a Pinotage wine where you’re advised to enjoy it “young”. By this they in fact mean that it is not the style of Pinotage that you should consider putting away in your cellar or “aging” for too long, be it either because it’s at its best at the time, or simply because the style does not gain much benefit from being further matured. (Yes, unlike myth would have it – wines do mature in the bottle)
Those lighter Pinotage varieties which have perhaps been oaked for shorter stints of time are often an example of this. Their strong flavours and unique characteristics are precisely the desired result and hence have been produced in the way in which they have. So for this reason you would buy a bottle of a so called “young-style” of Pinotage and enjoy it before it loses that perfect edge.
In other instances there are those Pinotage wines that have been created with the long-term aging benefits in mind. For these more serious wines one should always ensure that you have optimal storage conditions before you put such a special bottle of wine away.
International Pinotage Day!
Amongst not only the wine-fraternity of this county but among wine lovers alike, International Pinotage Day marks a very important day in South Africa. This annual day celebrates the very essence of what Pinotage represents – a truly home-grown grape variety with all the excitement and awareness around it.
Each year there is an obvious buzz around the plethora of Pinotage themed events and promotions taking place and numerous producers and retailers make an impressive effort in offering great experiences. Be it tastings, pairings, or festivals, even our international markets especially in Europe and the USA host Pinotage tastings and events in our honour. As quoted by Beyers Truter, the founder and Chairperson of the Pinotage Association, “We have seen a massive increase in participation of producers, retailers and the public” – prove that this special day in honour of this phenomenal wine is here and here to stay!
Alvi’s Drift Pinotage
Alvi’s Drift Wine Estate , located in the charming Breede River Valley, just outside the town of Worcester is a prime example of one of South African’s top Pinotage producers. Focussing on predominantly Chenin Blanc and Pinotage, Alvi’s Drift have put tremendous effort and skill into their selection of wines and as a result have enjoyed some pretty impressive accolades during their time, sweeping in over 100 wine awards in the last 10 years alone.
The Alvi’s Drift Ultra Premium Range as well as their Signature Range offers a selection of Pinotage wines that are guaranteed to please both the serious red wine lover as well as the more social drinker.
Alvi’s Drift promote responsible drinking, no alcohol to persons under 18.