Pinotage is the flagship bold red grape of South Africa, althought not the most widely planted. It is unique in that it's a crossing. This means it's the offspring of two grape variety 'parents. In the case of Pinotage, these are Pinot Noir and Cinsault.
A crossing can happen naturally, but Pinotage was deliberately created by South African viticultural researchers in the 1920s. The aim was to create a grape that had the finest qualities of Pinot Noir, an ‘elite’ grape that’s difficult to grow, with the power and hardiness of Cinsault, which was called Hermitage in South Africa at the time. The resulting bunches had small berries packed with colour and tannins. After experimentation with plantings that met with varying degrees of success, Pinotage started to make a name for itself in the middle of the last century. Its fortunes have risen and fallen over the decades but today it’s in fashion across Western Cape vineyards.
As for its taste, Pinotage is dry and full-bodied. Lighter styles display red fruit while fruit from old bush vines creates wines with black fruit, fig, menthol and savoury notes plus toasty coffee and earth from oak ageing. It has medium to high tannins, medium acidity, and registers as “high” on the alcohol scale at over 15% ABV in some instances. It’s capable of lengthy ageing.
Although this unique grape is mostly cultivated in its home country, it also appears in the vineyards of North and South America, New Zealand, Israel, Germany, and Zimbabwe. In South Africa, it is a varietal wine and appears with international varieties in fine reds famously known as “Cape Blends”.
Fun fact: Pinotage got its name from its parent grapes. The “Pino” part is obvious but the “tage” bit less so ̶ until you learn that Cinsault used to be known as Hermitage in South Africa. Apparently, “Herminoir” was also considered as a name for the new grape!