Virginia, we have a Pinotage!

Hello Friends,

When Dezel first heard through the grapevine that a varietal Pinotage had been produced in Virginia, it was not difficult to figure out who might have bottled this red wine grape variety that is altogether unique to South Africa. My initial and correct guess was that of the wine lover and Virginia wine pioneer who brought Viognier to the Commonwealth and whose willingness to experiment with a myriad of grape varieties paved the way for less adventurous growers in Virginia. So who is Dezel referring to? Well, none other than Dennis Horton of course, owner of Horton Vineyards located in Gordonsville, VA, where there is something for every palate preference – trust me!

Before diving into the Horton Vineyards 2005 Pinotage, it is important to first have a basic understanding of Pinotage, as some people may not be familiar with the grape variety. Pinotage is a cross developed in the mid 1920’s by a professor at Stellenbosch University who sought to combine the best qualities of the Pinot Noir grape, such as complexity and finesse, with the resilience and hardiness of the Cinsault grape variety.

In my humble opinion, it is fair to say that Pinotage is to South Africa what Zinfandel is to California. The flavor and aroma profile of each of these grape varieties are unique to their region, their terrior and expresses qualities and properties in the glass that cannot be duplicated elsewhere, even amidst the technological advancements of the New World.

Horton Vineyards Pinotage 2005

For fear that my nose will grow, I must be honest and say that I am not a raving fan of Pinotage, but it is an interesting and complex enough wine to keep one engaged. Many people often associate South African Pinotage with the term “rustic”, and it is a term that defines most inexpensive to middling South African examples fairly well. Most South African Pinotage examples are medium-bodied wines with refreshing ripe fruit flavors up front, including red fruit and banana-like flavors with earthy and rustic notes mid palate, ending in a smoky, hickory sort of bacon fat finish that is accompanied by friendly tannins.

South African Pinotage is somewhat of a love \ hate affair, even amongst the locals. South Africa knows however, that this grape is unique to their terrior on one side of the coin; on the other side of the coin it is not popular enough, or more appropriately, sophisticated enough for international acceptance. Elegant examples of Pinotage are produced, but like some of the more elegant Norton examples found here in Virginia, are more the result of what the winemaker can do to make these wines un-Pinotage like or un-Norton like.

Lastly, South Africa is a rapidly surging wine producing region with rock star quality examples of Syrah and several other European varieties including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc at very reasonable prices. No matter how great these wines are however, when one thinks of South African wines, Pinotage will always be at the forefront – It’s just that important!

So what type of Pinotage can one expect from Virginia you ask? First, unbeknownst to Dezel, Horton Vineyards has successfully grown Pinotage since the late 1990’s and began using it as a blending grape in their Syrah wines a few years later. The 2005 marks Horton’s first varietal bottling of Pinotage, and to the best of my knowledge, the first varietal Pinotage in Virginia.

Well, enough of Dezel’s rambling, let us pour and talk about the Horton Vineyard’s Pinotage. The wine is accessible and done in a fruit forward style displaying a brilliant deep ruby color. On the nose are enticing red berry fruit aromas, mild spice and soft cocoa hints. The aromas follow through on the palate with an abundance of upfront fresh red berry fruit flavors, namely raspberry. Well balanced and substantial, 17% of Tannat is added and provides a solid tannic structure that comes across on the taste as velvety. This wine for me is of an easy drinking, fresh fruit style that is thinly framed in soft spicy oak with a medium length finish.

In closing friends, this is a nicely made wine, however not the rustic, bramble berry and smoky characteristics found in quintessential South African Pinotage. Perhaps Pinotage is indeed suited to its native South African terrior to capture its true expressionism. But, lets not be fooled, this Virginia Pinotage is a very good wine that I recommend readers seek out. This is a rare find in Virginia and exemplifies what the Pinotage grape variety can do in Virginia’s soil type and climate. Try this on its own or with red meat dishes, spicy foods and even traditional barbecue. When you try this wine friends, drop Dezel an email, as I would love to hear what you think about it.

For more on Pinotage, I recommend readers visit Peter May’s blog – The Pinotage Club. Peter is a true and loyal devotee to the grape variety and his site contains a lot of information, as well as, excellent tasting notes on the many examples he has tasted through. Excellent site!

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