I’m not sure when I had my first South African wine, maybe some time in the late 80s.
I believe it was a Pinotage, a cross between French grapes pinot noir (acknowledged to be one of the greatest grapes in the world) and cinsaut (one of 13 grapes allowed for blending in the Chateauneuf du Pape appellation and a grape considered to be rather pedestrian in winemaking circles.) I don’t remember the producer either, but I do remember that I didn’t care for the wine nor did I think the whole concept of this lab-generated grape made a whole lot of sense.
I’ve had plenty of South African wines since — lovely crisp and refreshing Sauvignon Blancs, spicy medium to full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignons and Cab Sauv blends and a smattering of Pinotage offerings that I just couldn’t wrap my mind and palette around.
Imagine my surprise when I recently came across not one, but three separate Pinotage bottles that I found not just pleasant, but complex, engaging and delicious. My mind had been changed and my palette awakened!
In no particular order of preference, I tried the Kanonkop, Sinonsig and Stellar Pinotage offerings. I liked all three, really liked them, and I was surprised and pleased. Let me tell you about them.
First, the Kanonkop, which is on the full-bodied side of the Pinotage spectrum. Big and bold, with tons of ripe red fruit and ripe tannins, the Kanonkop would be a nice fit for a holiday table, but I’d lean more toward a Christmas roast — if you’re doing that kind of thing — than a Thanksgiving turkey as this particular Pinotage might be a bit too big for the bird.
At the opposite end of the scale, at least in terms of weight, is the Simonsig Pinotage. This unwooded version is soft and fruity, yet still packing plenty of punch at 14.2 percent alcohol. Strawberry and blueberry fruits dominate the nose. On the palette, the fruit flavors are joined by a nice core of spice, which really helps bring the wine together while also fleshing it out a bit. I’d happily place a bottle of the Simonsig Pinotage on our Thanksgiving dinner table.
My last Pinotage experience came in a bottle of organically made Pinotage from the Stellar Winery. Stellar has a range of wines. This Pinotage came from the Organics Mandala tier of wines, and it’s a beauty. At just $10 retail, this bottling way outperforms its price point.
Chalked full of aromas of grilled berries, peppery spice, leather and caramelized nuts, the Stellar Pinotage is medium- to full-bodied, so somewhere in the middle of the Simonsig and Kanonkop. Weight and aromas aside, the wine’s just plain delicious. I’m thinking of buying another bottle or two to pair with Cornish game hens or maybe a roast pork loin. It would be great for Thanksgiving too. I just know the bottles won’t be around my house that long.
Now I know why they created Pinotage all those years ago. It’s just took me 25 years and three new bottlings to figure it out.
Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons.