The Pinotage red grape and wine are unique to South Africa.
Pinotage is also one of the least understood — and appreciated — wines in the world, and for good reason.
Early vintages of Pinotage, created in 1925 as a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, were not very good. Critics complained of its poor taste and aromas, which some equated to “nail polish remover.” Ughh. No wonder the wine rarely received safe passage out of Cape Town to the rest of the world.
While numerous winemakers turned their backs on Pinotage for European stalwarts like Cabernet Sauvignon, several others bucked up the grape using innovative and sustainable farming techniques, replanting root stocks and improving production methods. It also helped that the grape performed better in granitic soils.
The past two decades have been good for Pinotage, whose red wines offer distinct earthy tastes and now command top prices in South Africa.
So now comes along a white Pinotage which, frankly, I thought was a gimmick. As a wine explorer, however, I had a duty to try it — and I’m glad I did.
Sam Richardson, the owner of Mellasat Vineyards overlooking South Africa’s Paarl Valley produced the first white Pinotage in 2010. It was so different that few knew what to think of it. It was good — but the real question was whether a consistently good wine could be produced from vintage to vintage. Or was white Pinotage a glorious one-hit wonder, like Mark Dinning’s No. 1 ’60s’ hit “Teen Angel”?
Six vintages later, there’s no doubt the Richardson family has put Mellasat’s premium white Pinotage on the map to stay. Its 2015 version earned a Silver Medal at the 2016 Decanter World Wine Awards scoring 92 points. This is the wine I sampled recently at North Andover’s Wine ConneXtion, which is an exclusive dealer for this limited quantity bottling. It costs $14.99 a bottle, and is well worth the price.
I bought two bottles to share with the Wine Goddess, my wife Mary Lee, and Wine Butler Mike Pigeon and his wife Judy. They agreed it was appealing and refreshing.
Here are my tasting notes: “Pale yellow straw color. The nose is expressive in white flowers and stone fruit. Peach? A whiff of banana too. First sip is creamy in texture. Nice coating of interesting flavors. Tropical fruit with banana accents and lingering grapefruit on the finish. Bright and mouth-watering. Exceeded my expectations.”
Remember, this is a white wine made from 100 percent red Pinotage grapes. Richardson achieves the result by pressing whole clusters immediately after picking the fruit and limiting the contact between the juice and skins. The must is barrel-fermented and matures for 11 months on the lees (tiny particles that float to the bottom and impart enhanced flavor characteristics and color).
Mellasat Vineyards, an independent winery, also produces Viognier, Shiraz, Tempranillo and a red Cabernet Sauvignon blend under the Dekker Valley label. These wines are just starting to enter the global market. Be on the lookout.