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 (£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