Pinotage - What's The Grape


A cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (then known as Hermitage in SA) that was created in 1925 by Abraham Izak Perold, the first Professor of Viticulture at Stellenbosch University, who was aiming to create a more robust Pinot Noir with the best characteristics of the more dependable Cinsaut. 

There’s a sweet story about the seeds being planted at his residence at Stellenbosch University’s Welgevallen Experimental farm, and then being forgotten until after he’d left the University in 1927 to work at KWV. When the university was cleaning up the overgrown garden, Charlie Niehaus, a lecturer who knew about the project, happened to be passing by and rescued the plants. The plants were then moved to Elsenburg Agricultural College where the young plants were grafted onto Richter 99 and Richter 57 rootstocks by CJ Theron, the successor to Perold. The four grafted vines were originally referred to as Perold Hermitage x Pinot, with the name Herminoire also being considered. The strongest plant of the four was propagated and named Pinotage. The first Pinotage wine was made at Elsenburg in 1941. Kanonkop also planted the vines in 1941.

Bellevue Pinotage brought recognition to the grape when it was named the General Smuts Trophy Winner at the Cape Wine Show in 1959. In 1961, the Kanonkop Estate Pinotage made by Paul Sauer and ...Rossouw won the same award. But it as only in 1961 that the name Pinotage first appeared on the label - to market the 1959 Bellevue Estate Pinotage, branded under Lanzerac.

Pinotage is also grown in Brazil, Canada, Germany, Israel, New Zealand, United States, and Zimbabwe.

Also known as:

Aside from the initial Perold Hermitage x Pinot reference, and the consideration of Herminoire, the grape is known globally as Pinotage.

On the vine:

Early ripening with moderate to good vigour. Moderately susceptible to mildew, Botrytis, and viral diseases. Medium to big dark green leaves that are oblong with five lobes. Small to medium bunches that are cylindrical, wide and compact. Small, oval, sticky, thick skinned berries that are dark blue-black in colour when ripe.

In the bottle:

Plums, mulberries, blackberries, cherries with notes of smoke, fynbos (herby dried leaves), rooibos tea, green peppers, earth, leather, tar, banana and florals. Sometimes meaty.

Bold tannins, medium bodied with medium acidity.

A specific style that uses oak produces chocolate and coffee dominant wines.

It has to be noted that Pinotage has a reputation for pungent nail polish remover aromas and a rusty nail taste - usually attributed to low quality, high volume commercial production. 

Today, Pinotage is now also made in a lighter style that celebrates it’s Pinot Noir and Cinsault heritage, sometimes even employing carbonic maceration processes to tame the tannins and accentuate the juicy fruitiness.

It is also made into rosé wines and sparkling wines.


As always, some wines are made to be consumed young and others are meant to be aged for up to 8 years. With it’s serious tannins and juicy fruit, the ageability of a good Pinotage should lie somewhere between a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Pinot Noir.

Wine review:

Scions of Sinai Fèniks 2018

Black fruits (cherry, blackberry), red fruits, florals (rose petals), herbs (thyme, fynbos) and subtly savoury meats. Everything that the nose promised, the palate delivered. Red fruit, herbs, velvet tannins and balanced acidity that lasted as long as you could stop yourself from taking another sip. Think fine Burgundy!

Pairing suggestions:

With its South African roots, you can’t go wrong with pairing the big bold styles with plenty of meat. A braai with boerewors and vegetable kebabs is the first thing that comes to mind to highlight the smokiness to Pinotage. But slow cooked lamb shanks or oxtail stew would also be perfect. And let’s not forget game meats like Kudu and ostrich that make excellent pairings.

The versatility of Pinotage extends to curries, biryani, bobotie, and ratatouille for the veggies.

I’ll confess to enjoying the idea of pairing the chocolatey coffee styled Pinotage wines with dark chocolate ganache cake topped with raspberries.

Find the Wine:

Other wines to try:

Kanonkop Pinotage for an outstanding expression of the bolder style.

Reverie Pinotage, made using carbonic maceration, is a firm favourite that has become a juicy and fruit forward staple on my wine shelf.

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