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Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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Pinotage, a hardy and moderately vigorous red grape variety, is south africa’s most notable contribution to the history of the vinifera vine. In 1924 stellenbosch University viticulturist A. I. Perold crossed Pinot Noir and Cinsaut, then commonly called Hermitage in South Africa, hence the contraction Pinotage. It took until 1961 for the name to appear on a label, that of a Lanzerac 1959. The grape has been controversial, particularly in earlier decades, when it frequently made reds with a flamboyantly sweetish paint-like pungency (from isoamyl acetate) and, often, some degree of bitterness. Greater viticultural and winemaking understanding have made such problems increasingly rare, but local and international detractors remain. Many examples are indeed too powerful and jammy, with the excessiveness of a certain type of ambition taking its toll. Nonetheless, some unquestionably good varietal and blended wines are produced, at all levels, from accessibly fruity rosés and lighter reds, to fine, deep-coloured, rich, seriously oaked examples, although examples made in the 1960s, long before the era of barrique vinification, reveal that Pinotage does not depend on the use of wood to acquire longevity and complexity. Most of the best of them come from mature bush vine vineyards with restricted yields, and some have a perfume recalling the grape’s parentage. Fairly simple co-operative winery examples from the 1960s and 1970s that have been drinking well (and rather elegantly) in the second decade of this century, as well as the complex maturation of older wines from the likes of Pinotage specialist Kanonkop in stellenbosch, testify to Pinotage’s longevity. So-called ‘coffee Pinotage’, with mocha notes deliberately derived from artful oaking, has become a notorious 21st-century success story in South Africa, and in some export markets. Pinotage works well in blends, and attempts continue to establish cape blend as a generic name for reds with a certain (but disputed) percentage of the grape. Since 1994, plantings of Pinotage, along with other major red varieties, have grown substantially and by 2012 the total area planted, 7,000 ha/17,500 acres, represented almost 7% of all South African vine plantings. Pinotage is also grown, to a much more limited extent, in Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, California, Oregon, Washington, Israel, Zimbabwe, and in most vine collections.