Ever heard of Pinotage?

It’s a weird little grape that’s starting to crop up everywhere. As you may have guessed from the name, Pinotage is related to Pinot Noir—one of its mutant offspring, actually, crossed with an Italian variety called Cinsaut in 1925 at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. (Pinot Noir has been called “genetically unstable” as it is fond of crossing with whatever other grapes happen to be in the vicinity—that’s how we ended up with Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc.)

Pinotage has become South Africa’s signature variety because even though it does not dominate in vineyard plantings (well under 10 percent of South Africa’s total vineyard space), it has one of the most domineering flavour palates of all wines.

Pinotage smells funky. There are some pretty vivid tasting notes describing the variety’s aromas and flavours, such as florid descriptions of skinning your knee on a hot asphalt road and tasting the wound. While this is a little extreme, it does touch on some of the common Pinotage flavours: a distinct acrid quality, like road tar or hot asphalt, as well as a coppery element not unlike blood. But lest you think Pinotage is nothing more than bottled road construction, know that it also has a rampant fruitiness—cherries, plums, even bananas—and a distinct meatiness.

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