Are you interested in learning about different types of red wine? Confused about what makes Pinotage and Pinot Noir so different yet intriguing? Pinotage and Pinot Noir are two distinctive wine varieties, each with a unique history, characteristics, and flavor profiles. Pinotage, a red wine grape that is South Africa’s signature variety, is known for its robust flavor with notes of black fruit, earth, and spices. On the other hand, Pinot Noir, a red wine grape from Burgundy, France, is appreciated for its elegance and complexity, offering flavors of cherry, raspberry, and mushroom.
In this post, we’ll explore the characteristics that set these two varietals apart – from their production process to flavor profiles – so you can better understand which one might work best for your palate.
What’s Pinotage and Pinot Noir?
Origins and history
Pinotage, also known as the “Maverick” of South African wines, is a cross between Pinot Noir and Hermitage (Cinsault) grapes. It was created in 1925 by Professor Abraham Perold, who crossed the two varieties in an attempt to create a grape that could thrive in South Africa’s climate. Today, Pinotage is primarily grown in South Africa, but you can also find it in small quantities in New Zealand and the United States.
On the other hand, Pinot Noir is one of the oldest grapes in the world, dating back to Roman times. It originated in Burgundy, France and is now cultivated worldwide. Although it has a long history, its popularity skyrocketed in the 1980s when it became a favorite among wine enthusiasts.
Grape Varietals and Viticultural Characteristics
The Pinotage grape is a unique varietal that is resistant to many diseases and adaptable to varying climate conditions, thanks to its crossbreeding heritage. It thrives best in warmer climates and well-drained soils. The grape itself is dark in color and medium in size. Its thick skin contributes to the creation of deeply colored, full-bodied wines. Viticulturally, Pinotage is relatively easy to manage, but careful attention needs to be given to yield control to maintain the quality of the wine.
Pinot Noir Grape
The Pinot Noir grape is famously difficult to cultivate and transform into wine. The thin-skinned grape is susceptible to a variety of diseases and demands specific conditions: cool, but not too cool, environments. The grapes are small and clustered tightly together, resembling a pine cone—hence the name “Pinot.” The thin skin of this grape also contributes to the lighter color and body of the Pinot Noir wines. Despite its finicky nature, when grown correctly, it can produce some of the most exquisite wines in the world.
Pinotage and Pinot Noir: A Comparative Analysis
Pinot Noir, with its long history and global appeal, enjoys a widespread geographic distribution. Beyond its birthplace in Burgundy, France, this grape variety is cultivated in various regions around the world. In Europe, other than France, it’s planted in Germany, where it’s known as Spätburgunder, and Italy, where it goes by the name Pinot Nero. Outside Europe, notable regions include the United States (especially Oregon and California), New Zealand, and Australia. These regions’ climates and soil types play a significant role in the variety of styles and flavors of Pinot Noir wines produced.
As for Pinotage, its presence is predominantly in South Africa, where it was developed, and it remains a symbol of the country’s wine heritage. The Western Cape is the largest producer, with regions like Stellenbosch and Swartland standing out for their high-quality Pinotage wines. Recently, it has also gained popularity in other countries with similar climates, such as Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand, but the production is significantly smaller compared to South Africa.
Traditional Fermentation Methods for Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir is typically fermented in stainless steel tanks or oak barrels, depending on the desired style of the wine. Stainless steel tanks are generally used to preserve the purity and freshness of the grapes’ flavors, while oak barrels can add complexity and depth to the wine.
Once fermentation is complete, Pinot Noir wines are typically aged in oak barrels for some time, ranging from a few months to several years. This allows the wine to mature and develop its unique characteristics, such as tannins and flavors.
Modern Techniques for Pinotage
In contrast, Pinotage is often fermented using modern techniques that involve shorter maceration periods and cooler fermentation temperatures. This results in a wine with brighter fruit flavors and less tannins. Pinotage wines are also typically aged in oak barrels, but for a shorter time compared to Pinot Noir.
Pinot Noir Production
In the production of Pinot Noir, blending is often avoided as it can dilute the distinctive characteristics and terroir-driven flavors of the wine. However, some winemakers blend Pinot Noir with other grape varieties, such as Chardonnay or Gamay, to create unique and complex wines.
For Pinotage, blending is not a common practice. Due to its distinctive and powerful flavor profile, it’s often produced as a single varietal wine to showcase its unique characteristics. However, some winemakers do blend Pinotage with other grape varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, to add complexity and depth to the final product.
Pinot Noir Taste
Pinot Noir is renowned for its luxurious red fruit flavor profile. On the palate, one may experience the taste of ripe strawberries, cherries, raspberries, and red currants. The aroma often includes hints of vanilla, clove, and mushroom, adding to the complexity of the wine. While the flavor can change based on the region and climate, a well-made Pinot Noir typically has a delicate, light-to-medium body with an exotic blend of earthy and fruity tones. The wine’s characteristically high acidity gives it a crisp taste, while the low tannin levels ensure a smooth and silky finish.
Pinotage, on the other hand, offers a bold taste profile that is truly unique. This full-bodied wine is packed with intense flavors of blackberry, plum, and mulberry, complemented by notes of tobacco, coffee, and dark chocolate. Some Pinotages may also have a slightly smoky or earthy undertone, a characteristic influenced by the terroir and winemaking techniques. The high tannin content of Pinotage gives the wine a robust structure and a lingering finish. Its lower acidity creates a balanced taste, whereas the distinctive wild fruit flavors make it an intriguing choice for wine enthusiasts looking for something different.
Aromas and Bouquets
Pinot Noir’s Distinctive Aromas
The aromas of Pinot Noir are as captivating as its flavor profile, with a broad spectrum ranging from vivid fruity fragrances to more subtle earthy and floral notes. The fruit-driven nose often includes scents of fresh red berries such as strawberries, cherries, and raspberries. Depending on the region and age of the wine, you might also detect notes of rose, violet, and hibiscus. As the wine matures, the aroma profile evolves, presenting more complex undertones of damp earth, mushroom, and truffle, adding an extra layer of sophistication to the wine.
Aromas Found in Pinotage Wines
The aroma profile of Pinotage is as bold and robust as its taste. It typically exudes a strong bouquet of ripe dark fruits like blackberries and plums, fused with hints of tobacco and coffee resulting from the winemaking process. Additionally, you may find notes of leather, earth, and even a smoky hint in some wines, reflecting the influence of the terroir. Over time, some Pinotage wines also develop complexity in their aroma, introducing nuances of dried fruits, vanilla, and spice.
Pinot Noir’s Aging
Pinot Noir has a remarkable ability to age, and its aging potential depends significantly on the wine’s origin and vinification process. Generally, a well-crafted Pinot Noir can be expected to mature beautifully over a 5 to 10-year period, although some exceptional bottles from regions like Burgundy can continue to evolve and deliver pleasure for decades. As the wine ages, the high acidity and moderate alcohol levels act as natural preservatives, allowing the wine to develop complex tertiary aromas and flavors such as dried fruits, earth, leather, and truffle that complement the initial fruit notes.
Pinotage also possesses a strong aging potential due to its high tannin content and robust structure. While many Pinotage wines can be enjoyed young, the best examples can often benefit from 5 to 10 years of aging, during which the intense fruit flavors mellow, and the wine becomes more balanced and integrated. As it ages, Pinotage can develop intriguing notes of dried fruit, spice, and earth, adding complexity to its character.
Given its light-to-medium body and high acidity, Pinot Noir pairs wonderfully with a wide range of dishes. The earthy flavors of mushrooms and truffles harmonize perfectly with the wine’s undertones, making dishes like mushroom risotto or truffle-infused pasta ideal companions. The wine’s red fruit character complements poultry and game birds such as duck and quail, especially when prepared with a fruit-based sauce. Grilled salmon or other fatty fish can also balance the wine’s acidity. For cheese lovers, creamy varieties like Brie or Camembert serve as excellent pairings, as they can soften the wine’s tannins and accentuate its fruity notes.
Pinotage, with its full-bodied structure and bold flavors, pairs best with hearty, flavorful dishes. The intense flavors of smoked and grilled meats enhance the robust character of the wine, making dishes like barbecued ribs or smoked sausages an ideal match. The wine also pairs well with spicy dishes, as the fruit flavors can offset the heat, making curries or Mexican cuisine a good choice. Bold, hard cheeses such as Gouda or Cheddar can stand up to the wine’s high tannin content, while dark chocolate desserts can highlight the wine’s notes of coffee and cocoa.
Can Pinot Noir and Pinotage age well?
Yes, both wines have a strong aging potential, with the best examples maturing beautifully over time. Pinot Noir can continue to evolve for decades, while Pinotage may benefit from 5-10 years of aging.
What kind of food pairs best with Pinot Noir and Pinotage?
Pinot Noir pairs well with earthy dishes such as mushroom risotto and game birds, as well as fatty fish and creamy cheeses. Pinotage is best paired with hearty, flavorful dishes like grilled meats and spicy cuisine, as well as bold cheeses and dark chocolate desserts.
How Should Pinotage Be Stored?
The wine should be stored in a cool, dark environment with consistent temperature and humidity levels. Ideally, a temperature of about 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius) and humidity between 50-70% are recommended. It is also essential to store the wine horizontally to keep the cork moist and prevent it from drying out, which can cause premature aging or spoilage. Lastly, Pinotage should be kept away from any strong odors or vibrations that can negatively impact its flavor profile.
Is Pinotage Sweet or Dry?
Pinotage is a dry red wine, meaning it contains minimal residual sugar. The ripe fruit flavors and high tannin content may give the perception of sweetness, but this is not due to the actual sugar content in the wine. Instead, it is a result of the balance between acidity and tannins that can create a perceived sweetness on the palate. Pinotage can range from medium to full-bodied, depending on the winemaker’s style, but it is generally not considered a sweet wine.
Is Pinotage Red or White?
Pinotage is a red wine, made from red grapes of the same name. While some white grape varieties have “Pinot” in their names (such as Pinot Blanc and Pinot Grigio), they are genetically unrelated to Pinotage and produce white wines. Pinotage is a dark-skinned grape with thick skins that contribute to its deep, intense color and robust flavor profile. So, if you’re looking to try a white Pinotage, you won’t find one as it does not exist. However, there is a rare mutation called Pinotage Blanc that produces white grapes from the Pinotage vine, but it is an exception rather than the norm.