Pinotage: South Africa’s signature red grape variety and, by all accounts, not the most popular of wines.
The grape is a cross between the far more popular Pinot noir and Cinsaut, so you may wonder why we’ve chosen to review a wine made from their unloved child. But people are starting to give Pinotage a second chance, the opportunity to spread its wings and show us what it’s made of; and for £6.99 a bottle, you can get a pretty great example from your local Co-op.
This is the joy of supermarkets in the UK today. Gyles Walker joined the wine team at the Co-op as their senior buyer a few years ago, and their selection has broadened and improved immensely since his arrival.
I was lucky enough to meet Gyles at their Christmas showcase last month and it was brilliant to try some of their wines – including two of their Champagnes, which recently won Gold awards in the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships 2017. That puts them in the company of huge brands such as Dom Pérignon and Veuve Cliquot!
(I’ll quickly address something. Yes, their Christmas show was in July on the hottest day of the year so far. Yes, it was bizarre and simultaneously brilliant. All supermarkets showcase their Christmas ranges in the summer so that they don’t miss the boat on PR and media coverage ready for the consumer rush in December. You learn something new every day!)
As well as their Champagnes, the £16.99 bottle of Les Pionniers NV Brut and the £25.99 bottle of Les Pionniers 2008 Vintage Brut, I was introduced to their Truly Irresistible Pinotage, 2016. Not only did Gyles recommend it as a great light wine for Boxing Day after the gorging of the day before, he also hinted that it would be perfect for a summer barbecue, especially slightly chilled.
We tasted the wine there and then, and immediately understood what he meant.
With aromas singing from the glass such as blackberry, plum, black cherry, strawberry and even a bit of apricot, I suddenly became far more excited about what we were about to taste, after having initially not expected much from a Pinotage.
The wine is very fruit forward, with a juicy plumminess hitting you straight away, followed by a hint of herbs (like thyme) and finishing with a taste of smoky tannin. I could definitely see why this would be a popular Christmas wine – they’re very warming, festive flavours. However, Gyles was right, chilling the wine slightly made it extremely enjoyable on such a hot day. It was almost reminiscent of a lovely Beaujolais, although a little heavier in tannin.
I brought a bottle of this home on Monday night this week and shared it with my housemates. We initially chilled it, but then let it come to temperature in the room so that we could try it once it had warmed up a little bit. The tannin was actually a bit too strong for us at room temperature, becoming slightly astringent and unbalanced, but I still maintain that it’s a great wine at around 14C or 15C.
So how do you know whether to chill a bottle of red wine? As a general rule, light-bodied, low-tannin, fruity red wine grapes such as Pinot noir, Gamay and Corvina work well chilled, although this will vary from wine to wine. This is because the flavours of the fruit and the bouquet of the wine will become more pronounced when it’s a little colder, which is preferable to the indistinct jamminess that comes with the wine when it’s warmer.
This Pinotage in particular would work really well with food, despite the fact that we drank it on its own. Good pairings include South African classics such as a cut of venison, smoky fish curry, game or charcuterie – the fruitiness would go wonderfully with the meat.
However, the Cinsaut heritage of the grape means that it pairs really well with Mediterranean ingredients such as peppers and aubergine, as well as pasta dishes. I’d therefore love to pair it with an aubergine dish – something like a Melanzane Parmigiana.
So give Pinotage a chance! It might surprise you…
All in all, a great bottle to pick up on your way home from work if your wine budget’s a bit tight; whether we have another heatwave this summer (although it seems unlikely) or you just want to plan ahead for Christmas.