My dear husband Bert is a beer drinker and usually only drinks red wine to humor me. Imagine my surprise when I handed him my glass at Illuminaire Winery filled with the Pinotage only to hear him exclaim, "Off the hook! Can we get some of this?" What the---? Happily, I obliged him and this wonderful wine now sits in our cellar (which is just a small room off our garage), waiting to be paired with a fantastic meal worthy of its amazing spirit.
Winemaker Aaron Hill, never to be seen without his signature baseball hat, has a right to be proud of his Sierra Foothills winery. This year at the California State Fair, his bold jammy reds won three gold medals; one for the 2014 Petit Verdot (another of my favs), the 2014 Zinfandel (bought one of these too), and the 2014 Alicante Bouschet.
The Pinotage was our fav wine at this tasting as it was literally bursting with big jammy cranberry, blackberry and raspberry fruit with a hint of allspice, and enough tannins to add complexity. It had a wonderful fruity nose, a smooth finish, and a beautiful deep cherry flavor with exceptional clarity. It was different, and not your "run-of-the-mill" red. What was different was the mix of fruit flavors and spice - giving it a unique and very welcome taste sensation.
This is because this varietal is not usually found in California. From Wikipedia:
Pinotage /ˈpɪnətɑːʒ/ PIN-ə-tahzh is a red wine grape that is South Africa's signature variety. It was bred there in 1925 as a cross between Pinot noir and Cinsaut (Cinsaut was known as "Hermitage" in South Africa during that time, hence the portmanteau name of Pinotage). It typically produces deep red varietal wines with smoky, bramble and earthy flavors, sometimes with notes of bananas and tropical fruit, but has been criticized for sometimes smelling of acetone. Pinotage is often blended, and also made into fortified wine and even red sparkling wine. The grape is a viticultural cross of two varieties of Vitis vinifera, not a hybrid.
No acetone nose here, thankfully! I also thought it was quite different from this description as it had no real smokey or bramble flavors, although I could taste some earth. What was predominant in this top notch wine was big, bold, juicy fruit flavor. I also got a very small hint of the peppery flavor one would get in a Pinot.
I think this wine is a bargain at $25/bottle!
As to pairings, I am working on some ideas - and here they are:
Food Pairings: This is not a shy and retiring red - it is BIG BIG BIG! It needs something big and juicy to accompany it, and right now I am thinking something like Beef Tamales smothered with a spicy red sauce, lasagna (Bert's favorite food), or a big bowl of Cioppino served with a bib and lots of those little hand wipes that smell like Windex.
Music Pairings: I see drinking this wine while listening to Isaac Hayes, Trombone Shorty, BB King, or Bonnie Raitt. Big, bluesy, strong music goes with the BIG RED this is!
Activity Pairings: The key word here is BIG - I vote for drinking this wine while boating or having a summer picnic with friends. I also see it as a great accompaniment to a rowdy, raucious pool party - even though it has a very smooth finish it is a strong wine.