Britain's Off-Licence News looks at Pinotage at 80

Tuesday, 7 September, 2004
Peter May
Chris Losh devotes a full page to SA's homegrown varietal, called 'Pinotage envy in the Cape'.

There's colour pictures of Beyers Truter, Pinotage vines on Beyerskloof Road and a bottle of his wine, but the man himself isn't quoted. Instead Mike Ratcliffe of Warwick Estate, Jeremy Walker of Grangehurst and Pieter Ferriera of Graham Beck are called in to bat for Pinotage, while Vergelegen's Andre van Rensburg hurls a googly: "Five percent of the world's population is mentally ill, and most of them must be living in South Africa if they think Pinotage is the answer". Ratcliffe admits "there are still people making crappy Pinotage - but you can say that about any grape varietal."

Losh speaks to retailers to find  "entry level Pinotages (under £5) are selling well because they are cheap and South African rather than because they are Pinotage, while the better wines can struggle"  Pinotage scores well with new arrivals who have no experience of yesteryears versions and who are "drinking the modern fruit driven Pinotages with an open mind and loving them."

Tony Allen of Oddbins says "Pinotage is selling more than both Merlot and Cabernet in our range. The only red varietal that can outsell it is
Syrah/Shiraz. Quality has definitely gone up." Maria Gallop of the Co-Op says "Pinotage doesn't do as well as our other own-label South African wines. The problem is that the consumer doesn't know what he's going to get flavour-wise." But Jonathan Butt of Thresher says "it's an easy drink at the lower level and draws people in. We're thinking of putting a Pinotage in the Origin (Threshers own label) range."

While negative about Pinotage as a varietal, Losh is in favour of the Pinotage based Cape Blend as "internationally acceptable and yet still
distinctly South African" and suggest that legally defining the name and constituent proportions would help. Grangehurst's Jeremy Walker thinks the Pinotage proportion should be significant, while allowing sufficient scope for the inclusion of other varietals - including whites - in the blend. Pieter Ferreira believes Cape Blends could give South Africa a unique style "just like Tuscany with its Supertuscans."

Losh's concludes the Pinotage name is a liability with those who've been disappointed with it in the past and its "biggest problem nowadays is not so much with the wine itself, but its image."