Pinotage: The story of a “love me hate me” wine

THE other week I was  a guest at quite a  posh function, so I made an effort and became very  girlie for the evening.

There were a couple of  surprises in store. Number  One: I didn’t spill any red  wine on my sparkly top  (though I did knock over a coffee) and Number Two: I   enjoyed the house wine, a  pinotage. It was deep red,  with plenty of black fruits  and spiky pepper.

Pinotage isn’t a grape I’ve  been drawn to over the  years.

It was created in 1925 in  South Africa by Professor Abraham Perold using pinot  noir and cinsault. (Also  known as hermitage,  hence  the compound name  pinotage. Just think, it could have been named herminoir).  The vines were  forgotten but rediscovered  tangled and overgrown.

It was the 40s before  the first wine was  made and over the  years it has suffered a  “love it or hate it”  reputation. Some  hasn’t been very nice.

Wines of South  Africa    (www.winesofsa.co.uk) says of the  grape: “It can  produce complex  and fruity wines  with age but is  also often very  drinkable when young. With  great strides  made in the  making of  pinotage, South  Africa’s own variety is rapidly  gaining  increasing  acceptance and  finding favour  worldwide both as a varietal  bottling and in blends.”

The Pinotage Association says: “We will never stop  pursuing better and better  quality pinotage. We will  never stop improving each  other’s knowledge about  pinotage.” (Find out more at www.pinotage.co.za)

I’ve taste-tested  pinotage  from various supermarkets. No scientific decision- making other than that.

L’Avenir Pinotage 2012
L’Avenir Pinotage 2012

L’Avenir Pinotage 2012  (£8.69, Sainsbury): It’s  deep red with peppered cherries and a smudge of  mocha on the nose. I ummed and ahhed and   recalled   sweet shop   Sarsaparilla tablets. There are moderate tannins and a squirt of spice. Delightfully  drinkable.

Fairtrade Cambalala  Pinotage (£4.99, Aldi): It is  apt to include a Fairtrade  wine as this week sees the  start of Fairtrade Fortnight. Well it was perfectly good  value and another  easy-drinker. For under a  fiver you get a smoky cherry and coffee nose (not  you personally, that would  look silly) and to taste,  some pepper-dashed fresh  red fruits and softly  savoury  afternotes.

Morrisons Signature  South African Pinotage  (£7.99,   at  stores and  www.morrisonscellar.com): It had bright blueberries  and redcurrant aromas  with   some chocolate  vanilla and a little spicy menthol. On the palate, a buzz of  acidity, soft tannins, red  fruits and pepper; a bitter  chocolate lingers as the  fruit dies  away.

Simply South African  Pinotage (Tesco, £4.99):  Savoury tones of  mushrooms and then  blackcurrants and white  pepper come to the  fore. The wine is light  like a pinot noir but  has the now familiar  spicy edge. Not bad for another wine for  under a fiver.

 Also in my glass

… continuing the  cinsault theme with  De Martino  Gallardia del Itata  Cinsault   (£8.95,  ww.thewinesociety. com). It is pretty  bloomin’ delicious,   from Chile and a spicy hot pot of  deep red fruits. Did I sense a  floral lift in   the spice? Yes I think so.

It’s only fair to add a  white to these meanderings  dominated by reds.  The  Society’s   Faldeos Nevados  Fiano    (£7.75) is vibrant and  refreshing with lemon and  pineapple  pinging out of  the glass and a long-lasting  juicy citrus flavour sliced by   an edge of minerality.  My  mouth waters   as I write.

The Wine Society is  running a South American  offer until March 2.

Published in the saturday extra magazine February 22, 2014

Liverpool Echo – South Wales Echo – Daily Post Wales – Huddersfield Examiner – The Chronicle, Newcastle – Teesside Evening Gazette – Birmingham  Mail – Coventry Telegraph – Paisley Daily Express