This week we explore a wine cultivar that originated in South Africa. Pinotage is a cross between pinot noir and cinsault. The cultivar was developed by Prof Abraham Perold in 1925. The professor of viticulture wanted to see the benefits of crossing the popular, but temperamental, pinot noir with the hardy, drought-resistant and juicy cinsault (see more here on cinsualt) . His little vines were almost discarded when the Professor moved house and took a job at KWV. However, Prof. Charl Theron de Waal from Elsenburg Agricultural College saved the vines, and they were further cultivated under his watch. The first barrel of pinotage were made in 1941 from the plantings of Prof Charl de Waal. Unfortunately, Prof Peron died before he learnt of the success of his cultivar.
In 1953, Morkel, a new winemaker in the Stellenbosch area, was looking to find some Gamay (an aromatic French cultivar that will feature soon in our tastings) for his new farm but was unable to source them so he decided to try this new cultivar from Prof de Waal. In 1959, Morkel placed a barrel, produced from these grapes, at a local wine show. This 1959 pinotage then won best wine on show on the Lanzerac label. Pinotage had arrived but the road ahead was not going to be an easy one!
Much like our poltics, during the 1960 and 1970s, the international community did not embrace South Africa's new cultivar. Pinotage was criticized for aromas of rusty nails and acetone. However in 1981, one man decided to change all this and dedicated himself to proving that pinotage could hold its own on the international stage. Beyers Truter graduated from the University of Stellenbosch in 1979 with a degree in BSc Agriculture with oenology and viticulture. At the age of 25 years, he became the winemaker at Kanonkop. A deeply devote and committed man, whose hard work eventually paid off. In 1991, at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London, history was made when the Kanonkop Pinotage received the Robert Mondavi Trophy for the Best Red Wine and Beyers Truter, was nominated as International Winemaker of the Year. Pinotage had finally arrived on the international stage. Local is Lekker!
The Pinotage King had launched a truly South African gem. In 1988, Beyers Truter planted his own vines and started Beyerskloof. The Pinotage Prince went on to establish the Pinotage Foundation which organizes the Absa Top Ten competition to showcase and celebrates the best Pinotage each year. This competition is only slightly more prestigious than our local Grootvadersbosch tastings but we also think that we are contributing something to furthering pinotage in South Africa and the world.
So what did we taste?
Odd bin 716 2020, available at checkers R65
Kanonkop 2019 R197
Beyerskloof 2020 R105
Arendsig Pinotage Inspirational Batch 8 2019 R185
Darling Cellars Old block 2019 R85
Diemersfontein Pinotage 2020 The Original R170
We originally planned for 6 wines but a newbie decided to bribe the wine master with an additional wine to taste blind, which was gratefully accepted. Bribery with wine is always accepted on Strawberry Hill Farm! So we added: Mooiplaas Pinotage 2020 R150
This week we had a bumper turnout for our tasting and the winners were very clear: Mooiplaas, Arendsdig and Dimmersfontein. Interestingly, the Prince of Pinotage's Beyerskloof was the least popular. The newbie had managed to call it with their wine addition and stole the limelight. Mooiplaas is available from Delish which is our local wine store on the N2. Definitely worth dropping in there to see their good local wine selection and to sample their excellent food and artisanal bread. All other wines, except Arendsig, can be found at the ever reliable Swellendam Checkers. Arendsig is available from the cellar in Bonnievale and its definitely worth the day trip.
Life in a forest in the mountains