Unless you are familiar with South African wine, you might not recognise the name Pinotage,
the country’s signature grape. The grape was created (yes, created) in the 1920s by Professor Abraham Perold, a scientist who was the Professor of Viticulture at the University of Stellenbosch.
Western Cape vineyard
He’d noticed that Pinot Noir grapes struggled in the hot local climate and felt that
by crossing it with a hardier variety might solve the problem. The Pinot was crossed with the
heat-tolerant Cinsault (SAN-soh) grape from southern France. The grape was known as
Hermitage in South Africa and the new variety, which turned out to be almost black, was given the portmanteau name Pinotage.
You may be surprised to know that several grape varieties are crosses, hybrids or clones. We don’t need to try and unravel the differences between them because it gets a bit technical and I can sense your eyes glazing over already. The important thing is that these human-made varieties are bred with specific intentions such as immunity to vineyard pests and disease, or to improve flavour, colour or grape yield. The University of California, Davis has already developed new disease-resistant varieties aimed to reduce the cost of vineyard spraying or replanting.
Climate change too has forced the development of new varieties which can tolerate higher
In a sense, all grapes are crosses because cross-pollination occurs naturally in the vineyard,
producing almost identical clones of the same variety. It was not until 1996 that DNA evidence revealed that Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the world’s most popular grapes is the offspring of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc – a natural chance crossing that occurred sometime during the 17th century.
One of the earliest human successes at producing a new grape variety was the Müller-Thurgau, created in 1882. It was a cross between Riesling and Madeleine Royale and today it’s grown all over Europe. In Germany it’s used to make Liebfraumilch and other undistinguished whites.
The Scheurebe was created in Germany in 1916 by crossing Riesling and Bukettrebe in an attempt to produce a grape that could resist frost. And I mustn’t forget the Austrian Zweigelt grape, created in 1922 by Friedrich Zweigelt who, with touching modesty named it after himself.
It turned out although Pinotage thrived in South Africa’s sunny vineyards, making it into
drinkable wine proved something of a challenge. Perhaps for this reason it fell into oblivion for decades and wasn’t revived until the middle of the 20 th century.
I well remember tasting Pinotage in the Old Country back in the 1980s. It was a novelty at the time - a rustic and tannic red that sometimes carried the faint aroma of nail polish remover or burnt rubber. But things have moved on. Several South African wineries are now producing high quality Pinotage, some of which have exceptional aromas and flavours.
Here’s one of them.
Rhanleigh Pinotage 2020 (red), South Africa (Bt 499 + VAT @ Vines to Vino) - Available in-store only
Although its history can be traced back to 1659, it was not until the 20 th century that South African wine achieved world recognition. Rhanleigh Winery is in the hilly Western Cape Province, between the modest towns of Robertson and Ashton. The company produces a range of popular varietals and this one is an attractive dark red wine with bluish hints. The first sniff might remind you of Shiraz.
After a bit more nosing, you’ll find quite a complex aroma with brambles, gooseberries, a touch of pepper and black jammy fruit. There might even also be a hint of ripe banana, but I’ll leave you to decide that for yourself. I was expecting a heavy, full bodied wine but this is pleasantly medium-bodied, with restrained sweetish fruit and a mouth- feel which is remarkably soft and supple. It’s a pleasant, glugger with a satisfying dryness, gentle grainy tannins and a longish dry finish. This well-made wine benefits from a bit of aeration. After fifteen minutes, the texture was noticeably softer and fuller.
It comes at a heady 14.5% ABV but bear in mind that the wine in the bottle can legally be 1.5% higher or lower than the value shown on the label. Raymond mentioned that this is one their best-selling wines. Not surprising really, for it’s easy on the palate and sure to make many more new friends.
Review by independent Thailand-Based wine expert Dr. Colin Kaye Dr. Colin has a regular wine Column in The Pattaya Mail newspaper.