Just in time for International Pinotage Day, Jolette Steyn, Head of Fine Wine Sales at winecellar.co.za, answers some questions about this truly unique South African cultivar. Read the Q&A below….

Just in time for International Pinotage Day, Jolette Steyn, Head of Fine Wine Sales at winecellar.co.za, answers some questions about this truly unique South African cultivar. Read the Q&A below.

Q: Jolette, not only do you have a winemaking background, you are now deeply entrenched in the world of fine wine with your role as Head of Fine Wine Sales at Wine Cellar Fine Wine Merchants. Please tell us a bit about your background?
A: My love for travel, languages and the outdoors led me to study BSc and MSc in Oenology and Viticulture in SA and Europe. For about a decade, I was a full-time winemaker before I started in the ways of a wine merchant at Wine Cellar. When I’m not tasting, selling or buying wines, I make wine under my own wine label, started in 2018. I love the energy and ingenuity of the people in the wine industry, and so I cannot imagine myself anywhere else.

Q: Could you give us some background as to the emergence of Pinotage? 1925 was when our Pinotage national grape was born, how did this come about? 
A: Professor A.L Perold made various crossings of vines during the 1920s and Pinotage was born from one of them. Its parents are Pinot Noir and Cinsault (then locally referred to as Hermitage).

Q: What are some of this cultivar’s distinct notes and flavours?
A: At its best it can be perfumed and delicate. Red fruit, floral and dried herb aromas on the nose, showing immense purity of fruit, a mineral core, fine tannins at the back and a touch of spice.

Q: Is Pinotage a preferred signature varietal in South Africa?
A: It is not yet as popular as some other classical French varieties, but its following has been growing steadily over the past 5- 10 years both locally and internationally. It is important that we keep telling the story.

Q: Many wine connoisseurs still regard Pinotage as inferior in comparison to old world varieties. Pinotage has had to fight tooth and nail for recognition, why was there so much misconception about the wine?
A: The earlier iterations of Pinotage where made in a heavier-handed style more suited to perhaps, Cabernet Sauvignon. The nuance and ethereal qualities of the grape was thus lost in a sea of overripe picking, over-extraction, over-oaking and less sound cellar conditions. The results were wines with very typical banana, burnt rubber and acetone (like nail varnish) notes. Unfortunately, these aromas became the poster-child characteristics for Pinotage abroad, resulting in negative views and reviews from the international wine community back in the 90s.

Q: Do you think the quality of production has increased over the years? How so?
A: Definitely. During the past decade or so, our growers and winemakers have gained a better understanding of Pinotage – its likes and dislikes and where it expresses itself the best. They can thus better manage it in the vineyard and the cellar to produce elegant and nuanced Pinotage wines in a variety of styles. Furthermore, we have some beautiful older Pinotage plantings which adds to the complexity of the wines.

Q: Does Wine Cellar Fine Wine Merchants sell quite a bit of Pinotage and which are the most popular wines?
A: We sell a fair amount. It is definitely a category that is growing.

Q: Which Pinotage wines will you be drinking on International Pinotage Day?
A: B Vintners Liberte 2017 and Beeslaar Pinotage 2018.

Q: Food and wine consumers in South Africa have become more knowledgeable, how does food pair with Pinotage?
A: Pinotage is extremely versatile when it comes to food pairings. As a proudly South African grape it works fantastically alongside our local cuisine. It sings with aromatic Cape Malay dishes such as bobotie and biryanis. Furthermore, Pinotage stands up well to hearty meats – beef or game – regular cuts or tripe – on a braai, in a potjie or part of a stew. It complements rich game fowl wonderfully – ostrich, guinea fowl or duck. Even spicy foods, fatal to most reds, such as meat or vegetarian curries and spicy chicken wings, are excellent food partners to Pinotage.

Q: Pinotage wine has its own significance in SA’s winemaking culture and now has its own day to celebrate, has this been well received in South Africa?
A: I believe it has. South Africans’ passion for this grape and new-found pride in it as a home-grown varietal has certainly invigorated the wine world and renewed the interest in this Cinderella-grape both locally and abroad. It fits in perfectly with the diverse and colourful nature of South Africa and her people.

Q: How has this unusual time affected Wine Cellar and what are you looking forward to in 2021?
A: We have an amazing team who worked tirelessly to keep the company running and our customers happy. With online activity across all platforms surging during the lock-down, we have been very fortunate as a business. We were happy to be able to pay it forward by starting an internship program to assist young professionals interested in the wine industry and market and sell our locals wines online as continued support for our growers, producers and workers in the industry. It has been a delight to connect to many new people across the country – customers and collaborators – and look forward to strengthening these relationships. We’re looking forward to many more tastings, wine events and celebrating turning 20 years old in 2021!


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