I first tried pinotage in San Francisco. I was working with sommelier and wine consultant Hector Osuna who has a great passion for southern-hemisphere wines. He poured out a glass of pinotage at Eos Restaurant and ask for descriptors. Rough. Tobacco. Leather. Other descriptors came from around the room. Ok, said Hector, how about band aids?
On my trip to South Africa last year, I tried to focus on pinotage wines. I wanted to taste using local senses and become a part of the community. South Africans were eating lots of boerewors (delicious sausages heavily spiced with nutmeg and cloves) and other barbecued meats. Farm fresh salads and other simple vegetable dishes were served on the side. After drinking several bandaidy pinotages paired with smokey meats things began to make sense. The pinotages added a nice fruit component to the meat without taking away from its inherent meatiness.
Here's the challenge: The next time you're barbecuing or eating a meaty, grilled dish, pair it with one or both of the following wines. Why not make your own boerewors? Just buy ground pork and beef and follow this recipe (if you don't feel like stuffing the casing, you can make a loose sausage or patties to get a true taste of South Africa).
2009 Kanonkop Estate Wine Pinotage
Literary Equivalent: Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian or Isak Dinesen's short story The Monkey
Stats: 100% Pinotage, grown in Stellenbosch
Review: For those expecting too much barnyardiness on the nose, this wine will be a pleasant surprise. It's fruit forward with plum and black cheery, and it made me instantly thirsty. On the palate, the wine tasted like a dry version of cherry pie, if that makes any sense. Fresh pink lady apple, smokey, pepper, charred bell pepper, aged steak, light blueberry syrup. Vibrant acidity, full bodied, and delicious medium finish. This pinotage will make you think again about pinotage. Also, Kanonkop's pinotage was featured on Wine Spectator's Best 100 Wines of the World (2010). It costs $30-35.
2011 Middelvlei Pinotage Merlot
Short Review: A step back from the barnyard and into the farmhouse
Stats: 50% Pinotage, 50% Merlot, grown in Stellenbosch
Review: The merlot makes this wine a bit more accessible than a straight pinotage. Nose of under-ripe plum followed by smells of dirt and diesel. Bandaids and barnyard are also there; let it breathe for an hour to greatly reduce their appearance. On the palate: more under-ripe plum and dirt with mushrooms and candied ginger. Acidity is a little lacking, but the tannins are very soft. Medium to full bodied.