No-one, I guess, needs reminding that pinotage is a crossing (not a hybrid, please!) of pinot noir and cinsaut. An improbable one, perhaps – execrated by some, adored and regarded as the saving grace of the rainbow nation by others; marvelled at by those who wonder (for example) how those pale, un-tannic varieties could have produced a grape generally making dark, dense, astringent wines.
A monster, some think it. The Winery of Good Hope even produces, in its prestige Radford Dale range, a pinotage called Frankenstein, in ironic honour of the creator of this grape bearing a bolt through its neck. Unfair, unfair. The politics of pinotage’s inventor, Professor Perold, may have been deeply unsavoury (he was, as a member of the Ossawa Brandwag, a supporter of the Nazis up to his death in 1941; something which makes the KWV’s invocation of him as the brand of their most expensive wines a bit iffy – old-school-South African, to say the least) but that doesn’t diminish his great viticultural work, or his best-known achievement: pinotage.
Presumably the hoped-for result of Perold’s crossing was a wine of great quality (from pinot noir) and great fecundity (cinsaut). Breeding prospects oft go astray – as was realised by George Bernard Shaw (or someone else perhaps, for the story is unreliable, I think) who responded to the dancer Isadora Duncan’s suggestion that a child of theirs might combine her perfect body with his perfect brain. “Sounds cool”, said Shaw (or Anatole France or someone else), “but what if the poor child inherited your brain and my body?”
Whatever the virtues of the grape, it can be difficult to see the finesse of pinot in pinotage. But sometimes, if the wine is sensitively made (without too much extraction, without too much ripeness, without too much new oak) there can be a lovely perfume that is reminiscent of the hero (or heroine) of the Cote d’Or.
The perfume can be a bit exaggerated, even – as I think it was on the maiden 2011 vintage of the very attractive Radford-Dale Frankenstein, though it is tamed on the more respectable and even more attractive 2012 vintage of that wine. But perfume on red wines is not to be sniffed at (though it is undoubtedly to be sniffed!) – it’s there sometimes on lovely syrahs like those of Mullineux for example, but it’s something to particularly enjoy in some pinotages that don’t smell of American or French oak forests.
Even more rare in pinotage (the way it’s generally made), I think, is the quality of lightness, of unambitious happiness, of unpretentiousness, of modesty, that comes in some really nice cinsauts (take the Mount Abora Saffraan (see here) as a quintessential example).
So, I suppose I’m saying that the pinotages I tend to like are mostly treated more like cinsauts – though of course there are some that are treated like very grand cabernets (Kanonkop as the prime example) which utterly discount my claim. In same ways the better examples of the cinsaut direction include quite a few rosés made from pinotage – which does that job particularly well, I think.
One of the prime examples of that style is Lammershoek Sink the Pink Pinotage, but the less-pink one in Lammershoek’s LAM range is a quintessential pinotage made in the ideal cinsaut mode. Other pinotages I’ve recently tasted that move in the direction of the lightness, the easy modest charm, of cinsaut, without being at all trivial, would include in their number Escapades Pinotage (made by some smart Greeks, a Swede and a New Zealander, and, sadly, mostly for export I think), the Radford Dale Frankenstein, and two from Stellenrust – the pricey Cornerstone and the great-value straight Pinotage.
There’s really huge satisfaction to be had from the rainbow grape when it’s not treated with too much reverence – but, rather, as a source of less vaultingly ambitious pleasure.