Mar. 20, 2013 - Issue #909: Water Crisis
Ever heard of Pinotage?
You're in for a new tasting experienceIt's a weird little grape that's starting to crop up everywhere. As you may have guessed from the name, Pinotage is related to Pinot Noir—one of its mutant offspring, actually, crossed with an Italian variety called Cinsaut in 1925 at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. (Pinot Noir has been called "genetically unstable" as it is fond of crossing with whatever other grapes happen to be in the vicinity—that's how we ended up with Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc.)
Pinotage has become South Africa's signature variety because even though it does not dominate in vineyard plantings (well under 10 percent of South Africa's total vineyard space), it has one of the most domineering flavour palates of all wines.
Pinotage smells funky. There are some pretty vivid tasting notes describing the variety's aromas and flavours, such as florid descriptions of skinning your knee on a hot asphalt road and tasting the wound. While this is a little extreme, it does touch on some of the common Pinotage flavours: a distinct acrid quality, like road tar or hot asphalt, as well as a coppery element not unlike blood. But lest you think Pinotage is nothing more than bottled road construction, know that it also has a rampant fruitiness—cherries, plums, even bananas—and a distinct meatiness.
Because of these pungent aromas, several wine-makers and critics have been openly disdainful about the variety, declaring that it has no place in any vineyard, and peppering their tasting notes with decidedly unflattering adjectives. But with proper growing techniques, some oak aging and a year or two of bottle age, the wilder aspects of Pinotage are tamed and the wine can be quite velvety and rich. Even better news is that while Pinotage's reputation has improved over recent years, it's still a fairly niche wine and therefore doesn't have the cachet of well-known bottles or grapes, so most of it is quite inexpensive.
While most Pinotage hails from its home country of South Africa, some other plantings have cropped up in New Zealand, Canada and California. Versions of the grape made in these other countries tend to be geared towards an international audience, and its stinky flavours are generally toned down accordingly. Pinotage is also often blended with other grapes (chiefly Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Shiraz) to achieve a similar effect.
Given its robust, meaty profile, Pinotage pairs wonderfully with meat —and the gamier, the better. Lamb, goat, rabbit, venison, elk and other game meats pair very well with the grape; lamb sausage is my personal favourite pairing as well as one that's traditionally South African. The high acidity in Pinotage allows it to pair with some cheeses, especially goat cheese like chèvre and feta, and sheep's milk cheese like manchego. And for those who don't mind a little funk, most Pinotage is just fine all on its own —especially the Pinotage blends. V vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
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