Wednesday, June 18, 2008

There's a Cheetah in my Bottle

Certain parts of the world are known for a particular grape. Pinotage is that grape for South Africa. I’d bet that not many people consider Pinotage their favorite grape, but I found my first sample of a wine made from this grape interesting.

Pinotage is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut created in 1925. The hope was to create a grape with the great flavor of Pinot Noir and the hearty growing strengths of Cinsaut. In South Africa, Cinsaut was called “Hermitage” which explains how the grape is called Pinotage and not Pinotaut.

From what I’ve read about wines made from the grape, they can range from “light and fruity and best consumed young to heavy and tannic examples that needed years to reach maturity.” Flavors of pepper, black fruits, spiciness and acetone are used to describe these wines. It appears that these wines can have an unattractive earthiness. One site said that Pinotage has “has enjoyed great success in a short amount of time but may have had its 15 minutes of fame.”

The wine I tried was a Sebeka Syrah-Pinotage blend. The wine is 60% Shiraz, 40% Pinotage. It reminded me of a cross between a Syrah and a Zinfandel with nice fruit (but not sweet) a little jammy and some pepper flavor. At times the wine seemed to turn a little harsh (maybe the earthiness of the pinotage) on the back of my tongue as I swallowed it. It was almost the same experience as drinking an earthy French wine, but not quite as pleasant.

I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy this wine, but for the $5 I was able to buy it for, it was a nice wine. I found it interesting that the same wine was $10 at another store in town. It probably would not have picked it up for that price. The chettah on the label normally would put me off as a little too much marketing effort to sell a wine that can’t stand up on its own merits. Jerry Hall who used to have a wine blog called Wine Waves reviewed a wine from Sebeka and posted a great picture of the over for the Sebeka brand (though the yellow cheetah spotted cork is cool!) Gallo Wineries owns the Sebeka label, but the grapes are grown in South Africa and made into wine there. There is even a cheetah endangered species fund associated with the wine, but I don't know how much of this is marketing and much it really helps the animals.

I bought a bottle of 100% pinotage to get a better taste of what the varietal is like. But I think I can call Pinotage my grape # 57 in my Century quest.

Tasting Notes:

Sebeka Syrah Pinotage "Cape Blend" (13.5% alcohol)

Color: Dark cranberry

Aroma: Cherry, zinfandel and syrah like

Flavor: Cherry, like a jammy syrah with a hint of black pepper

Finish: Mild tannins but an earthy bite, unpleasant at times

This wine went really well with garlic, pepper spiced Tri-Tip.

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