A couple weeks ago, I conducted a blind tasting of five red wines. Anyone who has been a follower of this blog, or attended one of my tastings, knows that I like to add a “twist”. This time I through in five red varieties that were similar to some of the more familiar grape varieties, but just different enough that “something didn’t taste quite right”. I included Italian grapes grown in California, French Grapes, Spanish grapes, and one South African grape.

As a wine producing country, South Africa is considered a new world wine country, but is has been producing wines since the mid 1600’s, when it was a way station for the Dutch East India Company. Apartheid pretty much isolated the country and its’ wines, and ever since, it has been trying to carve a new identity for itself.

People either "love" or "hate"  South Africa's famous red wine grape variety:  Pinotage. The jury is still out on whether or not this is quality grape.

Abraham Perold
Pinotage is the direct result of a somewhat unusual cross, developed in 1925 by Abraham Perold.  Pinot Noir and Cinsault (as it's known in France) or "Hermitage" (as the same grape is referred to in South Africa) were successfully crossed at Stellenbosch University. The intention of the cross was most likely to capture and expand upon Pinot Noir's delicate elegance and Cinsault's hardy-nature. The result being a new red wine grape that not only blends the two grapes together, but also their names ("Pinot Noir" and "Hermitage"). This new grape is easy to grow. It is early ripening with moderate yields. Unlike Pinot Noir, the grapes are highly pigmented, with only moderate acidity.

In general, Pinotage tends to take on a rustic profile and often shows earth-driven notes on both the nose and the palate, followed by red berries, plums, banana, smoke and even acetone characteristics. 

New vinification techniques have led to a more acceptable, and even sought after taste. Both the Aussies, and the French have contributed more modern production methods (controlled fermentation temperatures, oxygen control, and a more artisan approach in general.

With a profile like that, people either tend to have a "love it or hate it" relationship with Pinotage. If you fall into the "love it" camp, then this wine can be a fairly flexible pairing partner, going well with the likes of game, steak, brats, burgers and pizza.

The wine we had at the blind tasting was the Spier 2011 Pinotage. Based on the feedback, this wine didn’t have a love hate relationship with the tasters. It did receive overwhelming support. The wine was very deep red in color, which was a prelude to the red berry flavors. The tannins were soft and round. Many mistakenly chose this wine as a fruit forward Syrah.

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