The primary focus of this blog has been and will continue to be Japanese beverages; however, starting from this month we will occasionally upload an entry on a foreign beverage that is available in Japan. In many cases this will be a means of introducing a subsequent entry that will be Japan-specific. Such is the case with the following entry.
In this entry we will look at South Africa and what one of us believes is the country’s greatest contribution to the world of wine—Pinotage.
Geography is destiny, so the saying goes, and this is especially true of winemaking. The obstacles that must be overcome by some New Latitude winemakers are formidable and though their perseverance may be admirable and occasional victories noteworthy, some people may be left asking the rhetorical question, “Why bother?” Their Herculean efforts remind some of us of the fanatical determination of the lead character in Werner Herzog’s 1982 film Fitzcarraldo.
Viniculturally speaking, South Africa’s destiny is writ large: “You shall produce quality wines!” The country’s preeminent wine-producing region is the Western Cape, an area with a warm Mediterranean-like climate; a varied topography; the influence of two ocean currents, the cold Benguela and the warm Mozambique; and the Cape Doctor—a bringer of both good—fungal prophylactic—and bad—fruit-set disruptor—medicine. These factors allow for the production of high-alcohol, opulent wines (think Tinta Barocca), as well as wines with lower alcohol and high acidity (think Pinot Noir), for the production of high-quality still wines in general, as well as noteworthy sparkling wines. Furthermore, the country has a domestic labor force capable of meeting demands during harvest time.
The birthplace of Pinotage is Stellenbosch University, one of South Africa’s most prestigious tertiary institutions. It was there in 1925 that Dr. Abraham Izak Perold crossed Pinot Noir and Cinsault, which gave the world Pinotage. The flavor profile for this varietal varies wildly. To give you some idea, we will quote from the very informative and user friendly Grapes & Wines: A Comprehensive Guide to Varieties & Flavours by Oz Clarke and Margaret Rand: “Good Pinotage tastes and smells like no other wine—wonderful mulberry, blackberry and damson fruit, a flicker of lava and the deep, midwinter flavour of marshmallows toasted in front of the fire.”
The wine that we tasted was of 2019 vintage and the product of Barista, which is from the Stellenbosch district, of course, in the Western Cape. We did not pick up on any marshmallows, but we did notice a lot of black fruit, especially black cherry, plum, blackberry, and black currants. Barista’s Pinotage is unoaked, loaded with tannins, has an abv of 13%, and very reasonably priced.
Though not as ubiquitous as their counterparts from Chile, France, and Italy, South African wines are not hard to find in Japan. Locating the Pinotage varietal may take a little more time, but it is well worth the effort, especially for this one.
We will have more on Pinotage in our next entry.
We have written a book. For more information on Japanese beverages, please check it out. You can get it at fine offline and online booksellers in Japan, including Amazon.