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The meteoric comeback of Pinotage

For many wine drinkers, Pinotage is very much a marmite grape variety, or so many think.

The Pinotage varietal was developed in the early part of the 19th century in South Africa by Abraham Perold, the first viticulturalist specialist at Stellenbosch university. The idea was to produce a form of Pinot Noir, notoriously difficult to grow, that would thrive in the less forgiving terroir of the Western Cape. The resulting varietal became known as Pinotage, a derivative of the two grape varieties of Pinot Noir and Hermitage (now more commonly known as Cinsault).

However, having left Stellenbosch university Perold’s new vines were all but forgotten until their rediscovery over a decade later, and from these vines the first blocks were planted in Myrtle Grove and Kanonkop during the mid part of the century. The first recognised Pinotage commercially available was not to come until 1961 from Lanzerac, whose wine Lanzerac Pionier Pinotage which pays homage to this wine is still available today.

During the Apartheid years Pinotage flourished in South Africa, with no international exports producers focussed on earthy full bodied reds for the indigenous wine drinkers, with Pinotage a perfect fit. However, as trade barriers were lifted, many estates realised Pinotage was less to the tastes of European and US oenophiles and began replacing the vines with Shiraz and Cabernet which offered a less distinctively South African palate.

Thankfully 20 years on, many have returned to the indigenous Pinotage grape variety. In most examples the rough vegetal farmyard elements have been smoothed into a more luxurious supple wine. Pinotage does still convey the original earthy terroir but now is more often a more refined beast, still with plenty of oomph and weight, but more rounded and supple than it’s predecessors.

Sales of Pinotage at Hard to Find Wines have near tripled over the past couple of years, with a real resurgence of this unique varietal. Although many South African vineyards are yet to return to Pinotage, we have a range of fantastic quality Pinotage to suit any budget, from less than £7 a bottle to over £40. Our range of Pinotage can be found here