South Africa’s Pinotage Pleasures | Wine Enthusiast
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South Africa’s Pinotage Pleasures

While South Africa has a long and rich winemaking history that’s hard to define with just one grape, many assert that Pinotage is the country’s most characteristic red-wine variety.

A hybrid between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, Pinotage was first created in 1925 by chemist Abraham Izak Perold, who was tasked by the Cape government to find grape varieties that could be successfully cultivated in South Africa. The first documented commercial planting of the grape was in 1943, with many award-winning successes that followed.

But early Pinotage bottlings, especially in their youth, had a tendency to exhibit acetone-like, chemically or rubbery aromas within brute, robust structures that were hard to enjoy and move beyond once you experienced one that hit those notes.

The Pinotage Association was formed in 1995 to help remedy the grape’s less-than-stellar reputation. Thanks to better winemaking practices, increased regional and vineyard understanding, the sharing of winemaker experiences and criteria to define the best examples, the country’s Pinotages became better and more consistent than ever before. The winemaking camaraderie and information sharing achieved through this initiative combined with developing technological and viticultural advancements ushered in a new era for Pinotage.

Today, South Africa’s third most-planted red variety is again experiencing a renaissance. New life is being breathed into wines made from Pinotage by winemakers that now treat the grape more thoughtfully and with more reverence to its lineage and long-term potential. Bold, powerful, concentrated and firmly structured examples still exist, but are now joined by selections that exhibit surprising nuance, restraint and elegance, more in line with the grape’s Pinot Noir parentage.

Watch this space, as respect and admiration for these complex, cellar-worthy wines will only continue to grow as savvy wine lovers catch on to the grape’s beauty and true potential. In the meantime, here are some of our favorite bottles to check out now.

Kanonkop 2014 Black Label Estate Wine Pinotage (Simonsberg-Stellenbosch); $275, 93 points. There’s a lifted, vibrant impression to the nose of this impressive, well-crafted wine. It’s a pleasant surprise, as it lends levity and definition to the notes of black cherry, crushed purple flowers, licorice root and earth. The mouthfeel is plush and mouthfilling, yet not oppressively so, with ample acidity and structured but velvety tannins. The rich, ripe and robust palate leads into a long finish. It promises a long life of beautiful evolution ahead, maturing to reveal greater nuance and elegance, so cellar through 2030. Cape Classics.

David & Nadia 2015 Pinotage (Swartland); $30, 92 points. An enticing and layered expression of the grape, this well-balanced bottling offers hints of cured meat, campfire, asphalt and iris that masterfully augment the brambly red berry and wild raspberry core. Those notes all continue through to the medium-weight palate, framed by a crushed-velvet texture and notes of tilled earth and root spice on the enduing finish. It’s hard to resist now, but it should mature well through 2025. Pascal/Schildt Selections. Editors’ Choice.

Beeslaar 2015 Pinotage (Stellenbosch); $50, 92 points. From longtime Kanonkop winemaker Abrie Beeslaar comes this stellar expression of the grape. Ripe, full and powerful, it’s wrapped in a plush yet firm and well-balanced package that should mature well through 2026. Upfront oaky notes of cocoa, toasted vanilla and cedar should further integrate into the rich plum, cassis and boysenberry fruit with time. Earthy and herbal tones of tree bark, fallen leaves and licorice root dance in the background. Broadbent Selections, Inc.

Eikendal 2015 Pinotage (Stellenbosch); $20, 91 points. A superbly balanced selection, this opens with tight, slightly reserved notes of blackberry, plum and boysenberry that are graced with earthy hints of tobacco leaf, licorice and sweet-cured meat. The palate is rich and tasty, yet kept in check by ample, bright acidity and structured tannins. The evolving finish leaves you wanting more. Drink now–2023. Meridian Prime Inc. Editors’ Choice.

Spier 2015 Vintage Selection Pinotage (Coastal Region); $20, 91 points. There’s currently an upfront oaky presence to this wine, with bold notes of toasted vanilla, char and sweet spice that sit atop a brambly, ripe dark-fruit core. Flavors of cherry pie, baked plum and boysenberry abound on the medium-weight palate, framed by structured tannins that result in a texture like crushed velvet. Notes of pepper, game and leather unfold on the evolving finish. Drink now–2022. Saranty Imports. Editors’ Choice.

Southern Right 2015 Pinotage (Hemel en Aarde); $24, 91 points. Ripe boysenberry, blackberry and cherry tones are accented by hints of game, licorice root and lemon oil in this well-balanced and accessible Pinotage. The palate is smooth and plush, with well-integrated tannins and enough acidity to balance the opulent fruit flavors. Vineyard Brands. Editors’ Choice.

Neethlingshof 2015 The Owl Post Pinotage (Stellenbosch); $28, 90 points. This wine starts off a bit tight and closed, dominated by cocoa nib and espresso bean notes that are coupled with char and earthy, rooty accents. The palate is similarly tightly wound, with black fruit flavors that are eager to harmonize with the overt oaky tones. It’s all there, it just needs some time to align; drink 2020–2023. Saranty Imports.

Fram 2015 Pinotage (Citrusdal Mountain); $30, 90 points. This is a surprisingly bright and herbal Pinotage, with an intense fynbos streak to the bouquet and a distinct, almost mentholated character that lifts the ripe plum, cherry and berry fruit. Framing tannins lend structure to the medium-weight palate, while notes of lightly charred black fruit and espresso unfold on the spicy close. Pascal/Schildt Selections.

MAN Family Wines 2015 Bosstok Pinotage (Coastal Region); $12, 87 points. A touch shy upon first sniff, this wine opens up more with time to reveal bright aromas of brambly berry, raspberry and cherry, all hit by a decent dusting of cinnamon. The medium-weight palate is straightforward and approachable, with moderate tannins and a mouthwatering finish that leaves the palate refreshed. Drink now. Vineyard Brands. Best Buy.

David Frost 2015 Pinotage (Western Cape); $13, 87 points. Scents of biltong, black cherry, plum sauce and potpourri waft from the glass of this savory red. The palate is smooth and easy drinking, with soft tannins and plenty of black fruit flavors at the core. Hints of peppery spice and fruit skin grace the close. Drink now. David Frost Wines.