WHAT: The first grape that comes to mind for many people when they think about South Africa is Pinotage. Then they ask, “What is Pinotage?”
That’s a good question because it is a widely misunderstood grape that can make great wine, but too often in the past made mediocre wine. The quality pendulum is swinging back now, and there are some great Pinotages available.
In fact, most of the Pinotages on the market are great, according to Jim Clark, market manager for Wines of South Africa. I met him in New Orleans at a masterclass on South African wines.
“It is a difficult grape to deal with, so many growers pulled out their Pinotage vines,” Clark said. “What’s left are the winemakers who have a feel for the grape and will take the time to make great wine.”
The Simsonsig certainly falls into the great category, at what I think is an extremely reasonable price. It is a rich, lush, full wine with plenty of elegance and finesse and no harshness.
It is a deep, inky red in the glass, with pleasant aromas of red berries and spice. On the palate, you get a lot of red cherry, plum and raspberry. The wine does not spend any time in oak barrels, so the tannins are muted.
The wine is 100 percent Pinotage grown in the Stellenbosch region, which is blessed with weathered shale soils and cooling ocean breezes. It is ideal terroir for a difficult grape such as Pinotage.
One of the things I disliked about Pinotage in the past is that it often was hot and harsh, leaving an unpleasant aftertaste. Winemakers are still learning how to deal with this grape. This Simonsig washes away all those bad memories with a remarkable wine. I would open the bottle an hour before drinking. When we tried it, the wine kept opening in the glass, more than an hour after it was first poured.
Pinotage has good aging potential, and this wine should be good for another 4-8 years.
Pinotage is a relatively new grape, developed by a South African professor at Stellenbosch University in 1925 when he crossed Cinsault with Pinot Noir. Cinsault was called Hermitage in South Africa at the time and Pinot Noir was popular. Thus, the name Pinotage.
After creating four plants, the professor left the university and forgot about the vines. Later the experimental vineyard was going to be cleaned up and another lecturer at the school rescued the plants. From those, pieces were grafted onto other vines for propagation. The first commercial vines were planted in 1941.
If you have been turned off by Pinotage you tasted in the past, now is the time to give the wine another chance. You won’t regret it.
WINERY: The first wine released by Simonsig in 1970 was a Pinotage, so they have a long history of dealing with the grape.
The Malan family that owns the winery traces its history in South Africa to French Huguenot Jacques Malan who first set foot in the area in 1688. After many generations of farming and being a part of the wine industry, the family finally created a winery.
Frans Mahan started farming on his father-in-law’s estate and then in 1964 bought the property he named Simsonsig.
The name Simonsig means “to see or have a view of the Simonsberg mountain.” The estate is in the famous Stellenbosch Winelands just 27 miles east of Cape Town.
Frans was an innovator and created many firsts, including South Africa’s first Méthode Cup Classique, Kaapse Vonkel, more than 40 years ago. It is a bottle-fermented sparkling wine made in the style of French Champagne.
Today, the winery is run by his sons, Pieter, Francois and Johan, and grandson Francois-Jacques, the third and fourth Malan generation at Simonsig Estate.
After more than 30 Simonsig vintages, current Cellarrmaster Johan Malan continues the family’s pioneering spirit with his own lineage of award winning wines.
The winery produces wine under four labels: Malan Family Selections, Methode Cup Classique, Simonsig and Adelberg. The wines include Syrah, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, sparkling white and rose, Cabernet, Shiraz, Merlot and Pinotage.
GOES WITH: My wife, Teri, and I drank this wine with a new dish for us: tri-tip beef roast. We added long-grain and wild rice and big salads to complete the meal.
I first heard of tri-tip a few years ago on a wine trip to California. It seems to be all the rage for grillers out West. I found a tri-tip marinated in a package at Costco so I thought I’d try it. The taste was great, but the next time I make it I think I’ll make a couple of changes.
I cooked it too long. You need to use a meat thermometer and take the meat off the grill when the temperature inside the meat reaches 130 degrees. I didn’t take it off until the temperature got to about 160 degrees. I think medium rare would be about perfect for this cut of meat.
The other thing I would do is doctor the marinade a little bit. The flavors are good, but I would add a little red wine, some red pepper flakes and a good sprinkling of Morton’s Nature Seasons. It might even be good to cook it in a slow cooker. Tri-tip is a tough cut of meat, off the sirloin cut, so the marinade is essential, and red wine will help soften the meat.
Even with my mistakes the wine and beef pairing was wonderful. The Pinotage’s rich flavors and good acidity gave a nice counterpoint to the hearty meal. There is a softness to the wine I didn’t expect. It is a nice alternative to the Cabernet Sauvignon I often have with beef.
I think Pinotage would be especially good with wild game, such as venison, elk or boar, hearty stews, sausage or pepperoni pizza and strong cheeses. It should also be great with roast duck and even pulled pork.