Pinotage: South Africa’s Signature Red Wine

Pinotage: South Africa’s Signature Red Wine

Pinotage is South Africa’s signature red wine, a grape cultivar created back in 1925 by combining the French varietals Pinot Noir (for flavour) and Cinsaut (for vigour). Over the last century, this South African cultivar has developed a distinct profile that ranges from succulent berry flavours to notes of tobacco, liquorice and whiffs of smoke. Its unique taste and growing popularity make it a must-try for every wine lover. In this blog, we will explore the exciting history of this grape varietal as well as its distinct characteristics and food pairing options.

Pinotage - People Cheersing Wine

Origin and History

In 1925, Abraham Izak Perold, the first Professor of Viticulture at Stellenbosch University, combined the Hermitage (better known as Cinsaut) and Pinot Noir cultivars in the garden of his residence at the Welgevallen Experimental Farm. This new varietal was named Pino-tage as a nod to both parent cultivars. His goal was to make a new grape that had the beautiful full flavours of Pinot from Burgundy but was as hardy, generous and disease-resistant as Cinsaut.

A few years later, Perold left the university to join KWV, and his garden became overgrown. Sometime later, a team of workers went in to clean up his overgrown garden, but serendipitously, Dr Charlie Niehaus, a young lecturer, was cycling past. He knew about the Pinotage vines and managed to rescue and replant them at Elsenburg Agricultural College nearby.

During a visit, Perold saw the grafted vines and recommended immediate propagation.

The First Vintage

The first Pinotage wine was made by CT de Waal at Elsenburg in 1941, and the first commercial, large-scale planting was at Myrtle Grove near Sir Lowry’s Pass in the Helderberg region. During that same year, Danie Rossouw and Paul Sauer planted some Pinotage vines at Kanonkop Estate.

The Rise of the New Grape Variety

Pinotage was relatively unknown on the global stage until Beyers Truter of Kanonkop won the 1987 Diner’s Club Wine of the Year award with this varietal. This recognition sparked a resurgence of interest in Pinotage within South Africa, leading to an increased number of winemakers exploring its potential. They began focusing more on bringing out the grape’s natural fruit character rather than relying heavily on oak ageing. This allowed them to achieve a more refined taste through less ripe extraction.

From 2007 to 2017, Pinotage saw substantial growth in quality, demand, and supply. At the start of the new millennium, around 3 million litres of Pinotage were produced annually. However, by 2017, domestic sales had soared to over 5 million litres, while exports had more than doubled from just over 8 million litres in 2001 to nearly 19 million litres. As of 2017, the Pinotage industry contributed an estimated R495 million to the South African economy.

Red Grapes Hanging in Vineyard

What are the Characteristics of Pinotage?

Pinotage is renowned for its distinctive flavour profile and aroma. As a red wine, Pinotage is known for its high tannin content and bold, robust character. However, its flavours can vary greatly depending on how it’s made, with some typical notes including smoky, earthy undertones alongside a vibrant fruitiness.

What Does Pinotage Smell Like?

Pinotage often presents a deep, intense hue of ruby or purple. When it comes to aroma, this wine can be quite complex. It often showcases a range of fruity scents such as blackberry, plum, and raspberry. But there’s more to its aromatic profile. You might also detect hints of tobacco, coffee, dark chocolate, and even a unique ‘banana’ scent in certain wines made using carbonic maceration (a technique that makes the wine fruitier and softens the tannins).

Pinotage - Man Smelling Wine

What Does a Pinotage Taste Like?

Pinotage offers a fascinating blend of flavours. You can expect a harmony of dark fruits like black cherries and prunes, interspersed with subtle hints of spice and smoke. One of the distinguishing characteristics of Pinotage is its noted mocha or coffee-like taste, making it stand out from other red wines.

Pinotage is a bold, multifaceted wine that beautifully balances fruit, spice, and earthy elements. Its intriguing taste profile makes it a unique and enjoyable wine worth exploring. It has evolved into the signature red cultivar of the domestic wine industry.

What’s the Difference Between Pinotage and Pinot Noir?

Though Pinotage and Pinot Noir share a common ancestry, they are unique in their attributes. Pinotage is a hybrid of Pinot Noir and Cinsault grapes, which results in a more robust variety that’s less challenging to grow. In contrast, Pinot Noir is notorious for its difficult growing process, typically creating lighter, more refined wines with a lower alcohol content.

Flavour-wise, Pinotage delivers a bolder, earthier profile with a higher tannin concentration, often compared to Shiraz. On the other hand, Pinot Noir is renowned for its understated elegance, often revealing flavours of red fruits with a smooth, velvety texture. Yet, despite these differences, both varieties captivate wine lovers worldwide with their inherent complexity.

What’s the Difference Between Pinotage and Merlot?

Merlot is known for its soft, velvety texture and plum, black cherry, and herbal flavours. Although it’s typically a medium to full-bodied wine, Pinotage can range from light and fruity to dark and smoky, often with notes of tropical fruit, plum, and sometimes a touch of smoke. When it comes to the question of Pinotage vs Merlot, a lot of it depends on personal preference.

Friends Tasting Wine

Is Pinotage Unique to South Africa?

Most of the world’s Pinotage is grown in South Africa, especially in the fertile wine region of Stellenbosch in the Western Cape, but it has made its way to other parts of the world. This includes countries such as New Zealand, the United States, Germany, Israel, Australia, Brazil, and Canada. This worldwide cultivation underscores the versatility and allure of Pinotage.

Despite its journey into wine areas all over the world, the heart of Pinotage is intrinsically linked to South Africa. It accounts for approximately 6% of the total vineyard area in the country.

Pinotage Vineyard Sign

What Food is it Best Paired with?

Pinotage wine is a versatile wine that complements a wide range of dishes. If you’re enjoying a light, easy-going Pinotage, consider matching it with a salami pizza or a robust beef stew. If your Pinotage leans more towards the earthy side, it’s great with a roast duck or a creamy mushroom risotto. Those deep, full-bodied ones shine when paired with hearty dishes like braised short ribs or a steak.

Our Her Wines 2022 Pinotage is delicious with meat platters, curry dishes or anything spicy.

Pinotage - Steak and Wine

HER Wines

The HER Wine Collection stands as a pioneering entity in the South African wine industry, being the first company to be entirely owned and managed by black women. From the vineyard to the bottle, every aspect of the production, marketing, and distribution process is handled by black women. They recognise the value in exchanging ideas, motivating one another, and widening their connections throughout the various diverse communities within South Africa.

The Her Wine Collection Pinotage 2022 lasts long on the palate with its juicy, ripe red berry fruit and aromatic spicy notes. It is a medium-bodied wine with velvety tannins.

Pinotage - HER Wines Bottle of Pinotage

HER Wine Bursary: Uplifting Communities

Our team at HER Wine Collection, an all-female winemaking company, has personally faced and overcome significant hurdles to attain professional success. These experiences have given us a clear understanding of the challenges that young people face trying to find their place in the world, and it inspired us to give some of them a hand up. Consequently, we have committed to donate 2% of our profits to a bursary fund to support young, ambitious, and gifted individuals in realising their aspirations.

Applicants eligible for this scholarship come from families currently employed on the vineyards that provide grapes for the HER Wine Collection. The chosen recipients will receive financial aid for their education, along with mentorship to guide them through the complexities involved in studying at a tertiary institution and establishing a career.

Her Wine Bursary With Pinotage

Pinotage at HER Wines

Our meticulous attention to detail during the winemaking process, from the careful selection of grapes to thoughtful ageing, makes the HER WIne Pinotage 2022 one of the best Pinotage in South Africa. Once the grapes are harvested and destemmed, they are pressed before the fermentation process is completed. This process results in a wine with beautiful fruit flavours and a complex structure. Instead of ageing the wine only in tanks, we also aged them in French oak barrels to add a luxurious oak finish to the wine.

Our 2022 Pinotage wine price at R90.00 a bottle is available to purchase from our website. If you order 12 bottles of any of our delicious wines, shipping is FREE. To stay updated on our winery, follow us on Facebook and Instagram. If you need any more information, call us on +27 (0) 21 873 3170 or email