Pinotage is a red wine grape that is South Africa's signature variety. A local cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut, created by Professor Abraham Izak Perold in 1925, this variety combines the noble characteristics of Pinot Noir with the reliability of Cinsaut. The grape is a viticultural cross of two varieties of Vitis vinifera, not a hybrid. It typically produces deep red wines with smoky, bramble and earthy flavours, sometimes with notes of bananas and tropical fruit, it can produce complex wines with age - but are also drinkable when young.
Abraham Perold, the first Professor of Viticulture at Stellenbosch University, attempting to combine the best qualities of the robust Cinsaut with Pinot Noir, a grape that makes great wine but can be difficult to grow.
The first wine was made in 1941 at Elsenburg, with the first commercial plantings at Myrtle Grove near Sir Lowry's Pass.
The first recognition came when a Bellevue wine made from Pinotage became the champion wine at the Cape Wine Show of 1959; this wine was also the first to mention Pinotage on its label in 1961. This early success, and its easy viticulture, started a wave of planting during the 1960s.
The vines are vigorous like their parent Cinsaut and easy to grow, ripening early with high sugar levels. The grape is naturally high in tannins which can be tamed with limited maceration time but reducing the skin contact can also reduce the sort after mulberry, blackberry characters. Pinotage may be made in several different styles: young, light, and fruit driven, like Beaujolais, deep and rich like a Cotes du Rhone, or elegant and restrained like light Bordeaux. There are also 'rose' versions and several fortified into Port-style wines, plus Pinotage can also be a component in sparkling wines.
Pinotage is grown here in New Zealand - for many years, where the relatively thick, rot-resistant skin is an added benefit in the humid north island. Israel is making Pinotage and in Canada, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Australia and the United States.