13 December 2010

Pinotage as Icon Wine

Decanter magazine commissioned Christian Eedes some months ago to write an article on Pinotage. Eedes has never been a great proponent of the variety and during his time as deputy editor of South Africa’s WINE magazine it dropped its annual Pinotage Champion trophy in favour of Shiraz.

Back then Eedes wrote “more than a few examples of this wine [Shiraz] are recognised as unquestionably great, and this confirms the grape's inherent worth. Unfortunately, the same can still not be said for Pinotage. Shiraz, always generous in flavour, is a friendly wine, whereas Pinotage very often isn't. It would seem the writing is on the wall for Pinotage.”

Four years later in 2008 he wrote “WINE magazine is not anti-Pinotage. We do wonder how many producers are truly capable of greatness.”

What a difference a couple of years makes. In Decanter this month Eedes says “South Africa doesn’t have a single ‘icon’ wine. One that is recognised and sought after the world over. At last not yet. But could its first icon wine be a Pinotage?”

Pinotage as an icon? There are several South Africa wines that I consider icons, starting with Klein Constantia’s ‘Vin de Constance’ whose price has tripled since I first bought it.

I think an icon wine has to have a track record and Kanonkop Estate currently is the only Pinotage with iconic status in my eyes. Kaapzicht Estate’s Steytler Pinotage has also achieved great success at international competitions but I don’t think it is a name widely known. Pinotage winemaker’s are ramping up prices with special bottlings (Kanonkop’s Black Label, Beyerskloof’s Diesel, Hamilton Russell’s Ashbourne, Chateau Naude’s Vin de Francois) in an attempt to signify iconic status. All are excellent but they are wines that, I think have been more cellared than drunk.

Since 1997 The Pinotage Club has been working to raise the profile of the variety and no-one would be happier than me to see Pinotage becoming South Africa’s iconic wine* and when a former sceptic like Christian Eedes starts talking about Pinotage being it, that day is coming closer.

*Though a a drawback for people who actually enjoy drinking wine as opposed to speculating with it is that iconic prices take ones favourite wines out of the everyday drinking budget.


  1. Samantha19:48

    Interesting article as I feel Pinotage is a variety that really grips you and actually puzzles you, and therefore provides complexity and depth (when treated in the right manner, where you can actually taste Pinotage and not the inside of an oak barrell..!)And one example that comes to mind is Reyneke's Pinotage. Absolutely amazing. And as I mentioned, another point that comes to mind is the oaking regime of Pinotage - this grape is beautiful unoaked, why anyone would rather taste the inside of an oak barrel rather than the grape is beyond me! I hope to see more unoaked icons come into the running in the near future!

  2. Thanks for posting, Samantha.

    I agree with you in not liking wines that taste predominantly of oak but most Pinotages do see some wood aging -- I know of very few that see no oak at all. Simonsig's standard Pinotage is one such.

    Reyneke Pinotages are oak aged. The 2008 vintage had 14 months in oak barrels.

    The best oak aging is that which adds to the wine without you being aware of it.