10 best pinotage wines for a taste of South Africa’s signature red

From smokey reds to blush rosés, discover one the regions most popular drinks

John Clarke
Monday 12 October 2020 08:56
Defined as a cross between pinot noir and cinsault which first gained notoriety in the Fifties and Sixties
Defined as a cross between pinot noir and cinsault which first gained notoriety in the Fifties and Sixties

Pinotage is the signature wine of South Africa, where it was cultivated in the early 1920s as a cross between pinot noir and cinsault (then known as hermitage, hence the name). 

But it wasn't until the Fifties and Sixties that the wine began to gain popularity and it wasn't until the 1980s that international recognition came its way. 

In the broadest sense, it's still a "local" wine. Very little of it is cultivated outside South Africa. And it does have its critics.

There's always a danger that the chemical isoamyl acetate – better known as nail polish remover – can develop during winemaking, although modern wine production methods mean that risk has very much lessened. 

But its popularity, especially in South Africa, remains high and with good reason. 

At its best – as in the selection here – the wine is savoury, elegant and versatile. The reds offer hugely impressive and concentrated fruit flavours with hints of spice and smokiness while the blush rosés are refreshing, crisp and dry. 

International Pinotage Day is celebrated on 10 October, so set any prejudices aside and discover what South Africans have been enjoying for decades, one of that country's most enjoyable, well-balanced and drinkable wines.

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M&S classics no. 16 pinotage 2020, 13.5%, 75cl

From the Swartland wine region and just arrived on the shelves comes a full-bodied and intensely flavoured pinotage made specially for M&S by winemaker Ben Jordaan. Deep, wild berry and plum flavours are to the fore along with a touch of oak, a supple strength and that attractive bonus of spice and a hint of smoke. All the grapes are Fairtrade certified and sourced from Fairtrade producers. Enjoy it with roast meat or pasta dishes.

Definition pinotage 2018, 13.5%, 75cl

A chunky, big flavoured pinotage from Majestic’s value for money definition range. Harvested from bush vines it has an abundance of bright, fruit flavours with robust notes of raspberry, damson and blackberry all in the mix. Add to that a little smokey spice and some structured tannins and you’ve got an ideal introduction to this South African grape for those who haven’t yet tried it. Pair it with any grilled meat or with Chinese or Thai dishes.

Bowood pinotage 2016, 14%, 75cl

Made from vines grown on a low yield vineyard on the slopes of the Paardeberg mountain just 45 minutes from Cape Town. The grapes are small but concentrated and are initially fermented whole allowing for the gradual extraction of tannins and colour resulting in a complex and luxurious world-class wine. Intense and layered black fruit and cherry flavours are allied to notes of spice and tobacco making it a wine to savour. Enjoy now or keep for a few more years to enjoy its full potential.

Kanonkop kadette pinotage rosé 2018, 14%, 75cl

Named the Outstanding Wine Producer of the past 50 years at the 2019 International Wine and Spirits Competition, Kanonpop has a pinotage rosé that fully lives up to that accolade. Made in the same way as the famous Provence rosés, it’s a beautifully dry but immensely drinkable wine crammed full of strawberry and raspberry flavours. It’s offered at a special price here after the lockdown meant that major customers including, cruise liners, couldn’t take their normal stock.

Môreson MKM Moraka Klaas Maffa pinotage 2016, 13.5%

A big price for a big wine. From a single vineyard in central Stellenbosch comes a gold-medal winning pinotage named after pioneering Môreson winemaker Moraka “Klaas” Maffa. The hand-picked, specially graded grapes go through a special crushing process in which the skins are only slightly torn before being fermented in amphoras, resulting in a top-notch pinotage with depth and acres of flavour. Red and dark fruit notes are complemented by a light smokiness and aromas of spice and licorice. Decant before serving to enjoy the full rich and complex experience it offers.

Fairview barrel-aged pinotage 2019, 14%, 75cl

Specially blended for Waitrose by South African winemaker Charles Back, this is made from grapes harvested from bush vines on the slopes of Paarl mountain near Cape Town, which are fermented as whole berries with minimal intervention and then matured in French and American oak barrels. Damson, plum and dark fruit flavours abound with hints of spice and vanilla and soft, soothing tannins. Enjoy it with roast meat or charcuterie.

David & Nadia pinotage Siebritskloof 2017

Winemaking couple David and Nadia Sadie had a plan – to nurture and restore low-yielding old vineyards in the Swartland wine region and produce world-class wines. The result is one of the most talked about pinotages of recent years. Harvested early to help keep its acidity and with as little intervention as possible, it’s an aromatic and opulent wine with elegant red fruit flavours and notes of pepper and spice. Smooth and extremely palatable it’s a pinotage that could convert any who doubt its place at the top table. Sold as a case.

Billy Bosch reserve pinotage/shiraz 2018, 14%, 75cl

An enterprising blend from the Western Cape of pinotage, with its wild berry and plum flavours, and shiraz, which brings its own rich, complex and spicy appeal to the table. The result is a succulent and very palatable red wine with soft tannins and a subtle touch of smokiness that pairs perfectly with any red meat or grilled vegetable dishes.

B Vintners, liberté pinotage 2017, 13.5%, 75cl

A complex and structured Cape pinotage made with minimum intervention – so be aware of any harmless sediment when serving. Huge amounts of dark fruit flavour – think dark cherries and ripe plums – are married to hints of pepper and spice and a subtle smokiness. Soft tannins and a long and satisfying finish make it a wine to savour by the fireside on a chilly autumn night.

Care for Wild ‘Arthur’ pale rosé 2020, 12%, 75cl

Meet Arthur, an African rhino who has become one of the poster boys for a new range of South African wines aimed at helping Care for Wild, the largest orphan rhino sanctuary in the world. Each bottle sold will help secure a sustainable future for orphaned and injured rhinos such as Arthur. But apart from doing good, you’re also getting a superb blush rose for your money. A blend of pinotage (85 per cent) and chenin blanc (15 per cent) it’s chock full of strawberry and red fruit flavours and even converted the brand manager, ex-England cricketer Darren Gough, into the joys of drinking rosé.

The verdict: Pinotage wines

The big upfront fruit flavours of this wine are evident in Majestic's definition and Waitrose's fairview, both great value wines for under £10. Moving up, Laithwaite’s bowood is intense and hugely enjoyable while the gold-medal winning Môreson MKM Moraka Klaas Maffa and standard-setting David & Nadia pinotage siebritskloof 2017 are great wines by any definition of the term. The best buy is the M&S classics No. 16, a smooth, full-flavoured and supple introduction to pinotage that's recently arrived on the shelves and fully deserves its place there.

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