Serious Grape: Pinotage, the Wine for Coffee Lovers

On Fridays, Deb Harkness of Good Wine Under $20 drops by with Serious Grape.


Photograph from Rob Qld on Flickr

In 1925, a South African professor named A. I. Perold created a new grape variety by crossing Pinot Noir, everybody's favorite silky red, with Cinsault, a hearty grape variety that was known locally as Hermitage.

The result is a grape called Pinotage.

Pinotage is an acquired taste. Some people are turned off by its strong flavors. But what I've found is that if you absolutely adore coffee--thick, black, dark roasted--you will probably love Pinotage, too. It's the red wine for coffee addicts who can't go for more than a few hours without a taste of their favorite bitter brew.

The reason why? It tastes (to me, at least) like a combination of rich, dark berries and aromatic, bitter chocolate and coffee.

The first time I drank Pinotage was in England. It was cold and rainy, and when I pulled the cork out of the 2006 Diemersfontein Pinotage there was no way I could miss the smell of unsweetened chocolate and coffee that came from the wine. When I came home I tried to find the wine in the U.S.--but it wasn't available.

Since then, I've had other South African Pinotage bottlings and I've loved every one. My most recent affordable find is the 2007 Sebeka Cabernet Pinotage from South Africa's Western Cape. A blend of 59% Cabernet Sauvignon and 41% Pinotage, this is a great wine for Pinotage newbies and costs between $7 and $12 in most markets. The Cabernet Sauvignon provides green pepper aromas and cherry flavors. But the Pinotage is evidence, too, in the smoky chocolate and roasted coffee aftertaste. As the wine develops with some air, the mocha notes in the wine really come forward. It would be great with some smoked turkey or a steaming bowl of chili. (find this wine)

If you are ready to advance to 100% Pinotage, try to get your hands on some of the excellent domestic Pinotage being made by Fort Ross Winery. The owners are South African, and they've introduced its cultivation into California. Recent vintages have had a marvelous combination of cherry and blackberry fruit with coffee and dark chocolate notes and some dustings of cocoa powder in the aftertaste. (find recent vintages of this wine)

Because Pinotage enjoys a mixed reputation among wine drinkers, bottles can be hard to find but it's worth checking with local merchants if you think the wine sounds like your thing. If you want to learn more about Pinotage, stop by the Pinotage Association. They've even got a Pinotage aroma wheel to help you learn more about what the grape has to offer. And if you've had an experience with Pinotage--good or bad--please share.

Full Disclosure: I received the Sebeka wine as a sample.