Of all the days that have been created to celebrate grape varieties, perhaps one of the more obscure is International Pinotage Day which falls on Saturday, October 12.
It is a grape that divides opinion. There are those who think it is South Africa’s gift to the wine world, and others who believe the vines should be dug up as it is nothing better than a weed.
I must lay my own cards on the table and admit, more often than not, I have found myself in the latter camp.
Pinotage is seldom a grape variety that finds its way onto my dinner table.
But over the past few years I have tasted more interesting wines made from pinotage as producers look at ‘taming’ it.
A bit of background. Pinotage was created in 1925 when a South African professor of viticulture crossed two grapes, pinot noir and hermitage – which is what cinsault was known as at the time.
The result was pinotage, which was supposed to be a sort of heavy cropping pinot noir. But it was nothing of the sort.
The variety became known for producing wines that had a pungency that was reminiscent of paint or nail varnish remover and could have a certain rustic, metallic edge.
The fortunes of pinotage are certainly changing though.
And to celebrate this year’s International Pinotage Day, here a few wines to highlight what an interesting variety this now is.
Co-op Irresistible Pinotage 2107, Swartland (Co-op £7) is made for the Co-op by one and of the Cape’s newest breeds of talented winemakers, Duncan Savage.
It shows what can be done with this grape variety, even at this level.
This is all about juicy fruits, with cherry, plum and blackberry on the nose with just a touch of dried herbs.
The palate is really supple, it almost reminded me of a young Beaujolais with its rounded dark fruits and silky finish.
A little more serious is Darling Cellars Old Blocks Pinotage 2015, Darling (frontierfinewines.co.uk £8.99, Hermitage Cellars £8.35), produced from older bush vines on the Cape’s west coast.
It spent 12 months on older French oak barrels and shows dark fruits, a touch of spice and some ground coffee notes on the nose, followed by more dark fruits on the palate, gentle tannins and some length on the finish.
If you want to taste the heights pinotage can reach, Kanonkop Estate in Stellenbosch is the producer to seek out.
Kanonkop Pinotage 2016, Stellenbosch (limited availability Waitrose £27.99, frontierfinewines.co.uk £27.60) is made from old, estate-grown bush vines and spent 18 months in French oak barrels, 75 per cent of which were new.
The concentrated nose shows plum, black berries, chocolate and Asian spices, the palate offers layers of dark fruits, dark chocolate and well-judged acidity before a long, smooth finish.
This is world class, and shows pinotage can produce wine that deserves our attention.