First you shoot a buck. Then, to prepare it. . . Is this the reality of food pairing with Pinotage? Far from it, says Jean-Pierre Rossouw after talking to some producers and eating with Pinotage in the glass.Pinotage is a modern wine. It was created less than a century ago and is still evolving. Our point of departure, therefore, needs to acknowledge that Pinotage hasn’t been part of a food culture for centuries, and it hasn’t found a niche in food lore such as, for example, Sauvignon Blanc has with goat’s cheese or Cabernet Sauvignon with a beef fillet.
But it is a South African wine, and enjoyed more here than anywhere else, so it should find an iconic match in some typically South African food. But what is typically South African food? Let’s start with the generalisations that we like hearty foods with strong, lively flavours (we don’t mind savoury with sweet), and that our restaurants and many home kitchens borrow from many cultures.
Fortunately Pinotage is a versatile food wine, judging by the catholic suggestions of the producers interviewed. In tune with an age of mix-and-match cuisine, Pinotage’s modernity fits right in. Its adaptability is inherent to its flavour profile (see below), which may also be explained by the fact that there are a few styles of Pinotage about. For the sake of clarity we will identify and discuss three: fruity, juicy wines with sweet red flavours; the medium style marked by bold flavours (like coffee and chocolate, banana and plum); and the full-bodied, concentrated styles that are designed to age.
Diversity of style aside, most modern Pinotage has typical characteristics that are relevant in the context of food pairing. Firstly, almost all Pinotage retains a perception of sweetness, even when the wines are technically dry. This comes across on the nose and the palate. Secondly, Pinotage’s natural tannin structure is often overt and firm, as opposed to the softer tannins of a typical Shiraz. This quality suggests it will be able to match big flavours. Gordon Johnson of Newton Johnson draws a parallel between Pinotage and Italian wines, whose tannins make them natural “food wines”.
Matching to classic dishes
Surprisingly, however, Pinotage’s best match is not necessarily with a steak
smothered in a reduced, powerful sauce. In fact, most dishes that are a natural
fit with Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux blends are probably not Pinotage turf.
Every rule has an exception, and Anthony Hamilton Russell argues that his Ashbourne
2001 is good with a rare fillet of beef medallions served with a green peppercorn
sauce. But he does point out that Ashbourne is decidedly different – witness
his suggestion to pair it with west coast oysters plus a touch of red Tabasco.
“The Tabasco gives a perception of tannin to balance the tannins in the
wine and the salty marine quality of the oyster brings out a wonderful minerally,
seaweedy character in the wine. Take care to serve the wine cool.”
Warwick’s Mike Ratcliffe echoes this serving rule, stressing that the wine should
always be served even a touch below room temperature when paired with food.
Staying with seafoods, Beyers Truter (Beyerskloof) enthuses about a medium-styled
Pinotage with grilled yellowtail or snoek – even snoek with traditional korrelkonfyt
or grape jam.
But when it comes to the full-bodied style, especially aged wines, Truter opts
for powerful venison roasts and L’Avenir’s Franois Naud agrees,
saying: “Pinotage is a strong flavoured wine, so it can stand up to flavoursome
meats, like venison, and it is particularly suited to slow-roasted Karoo lamb.
These meats can dominate a Cabernet, but not Pinotage.” He also pairs the
wine to Greek-style meats, warning that a Pinotage can even overpower subtle
meat dishes, which leads us to cooking with more extravagant flavours – and
Nearly every Pinotage producer seems very assured of its suitability to spicy
foods, in particular curries – both Indian and Thai – and of course our own
Truter likes every style of the wine with curries, while the Ratcliffes say
their old vine Pinotage would suit “the spiciest dish” on the menu.
It does fare remarkably well with spice, but in my trials it found a more balanced
match with the sweet-spicy styles, like Cape Malay lamb curry and Bobotie. The
sweetness that is found in the wine cools the palate in the same way that a
sucking sweet is the best antidote to a mouth on fire.
Pinotage also handles the bright chilli flavours of Thai cuisine, especially
when the dish has been made with some coconut milk (again the sweet element).
Interestingly, sushi is a worthwhile pairing too; cooled fruity styles are even
able to cope with wasabi and ginger attacks.
The one winemaker who disagrees with Pinotage’s spice suitability is Bertus
Fourie of Diemersfontein. He tends to dishes that fuse classic with modern,
like a wild mushroom risotto with a sauce of dark chocolate. His Diemersfontein
likes the chocolate; in fact this is the bridging element, for the wine and
the risotto on its own are less suited. For Fourie, the presence of “so
many bloodlines” in modern cuisine makes Pinotage a great companion because
of its “all-rounder” nature.
Another risotto match is Southern Right 2002 Pinotage with beetroot risotto
(made using chicken stock) studded with whole walnuts. Norma Ratcliffe of Warwick
suggests that Pinotage matches dishes containing fruit, so she likes to stew
peaches, pears and plums in the wine for dessert, even making delicious Pinotage
chutney for meat and cheese plates.
Fourie is also fond of a “Gazuela Pie” – that’s sweet potato, pumpkin
and banana with some coconut milk in a pastry – and he makes Pinotage Frozen Yoghurt
and Pinotage Salami. Beyers Truter’s idea of a “Pinovin Pie” proves
his ongoing infatuation with the variety: it’s a chicken pie made in the style
of coq au vin.
Meanwhile, Franois Naud loves a medium wine with blue cheeses,
and there’s loose talk of eggs poached in Pinotage.
But to top it all, Jrg Pftzner, the sommelier at Aubergine in Cape
Town, relates that he was pleasantly surprised with a pickled fish experience!
It’s clear that Pinotage shows food flexibility and likes modern cuisines, especially
when they have a touch of sweetness. In gathering opinion and tasting for this
article, these matches stand out:
o With a light wine, like a dry ros – crayfish and salmon on wilted
o With a medium-bodied, flavourful wine Cape Malay lamb curry, medium hot.
o With a full-bodied wine – roasted springbok loin with a sweetish red berry
and plum sauce.
PINOTAGE ICE CREAM
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Method: Bring to the boil until sugar has dissolved.
1 cup Pinotage
1 cup Pinotage grapes, seeded
1 cup simple syrup
Method: Boil Pinotage, grapes and simple syrup until reduced to half the amount
and grapes are soft. Let
cool in fridge. Can be made previous day.
1 cup heavy cream
Pour milk and cream into ice cream machine with 1 cup Pinotage syrup and all
the Pinotage skins. Freeze for
2kg Pinotage grapes, pitted (you can substitute Pinotage grapes for any red
variety wine grape or red smallish table grape).
1 cup chopped onion
cup brown sugar
cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
cup currants (optional)
10ml all spice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
Cook for 30 min, reduce heat, simmer for
30 minutes until fruit is soft and mixture is thick – about 2 cups.
PAN-FRIED SPRINGBOK WITH RED WINE JUS AND PINOTAGE FOAM
(Springbok can be substituted for any venison or loins of lamb). Serves 4
3 medium potatoes, peeled
sunflower oil to roast potatoes
olive oil for frying
2 baby marrow, sliced lengthways
4 springbok loins
250ml red wine jus
30g roasted hazelnuts, ground
julienned rocket to serve
1 banana, sliced
400 ml Pinotage
2 egg whites
Parboil the potatoes until tender, but not soft, or the potatoes will crumble
during cooking. Place some oil in a roasting pan, about 1cm deep, and heat it
in a preheated 200C oven until smoking, about 5 minutes. Remove from the
oven and add the potatoes to the hot fat, then put the pan back into the oven
and roast until golden brown and crisp, about 30-45 minutes. Baste the potatoes
regularly with the fat.
Next, heat a little olive oil in the pan and sear the baby marrow strips quickly
until they’re tender to the touch.
Pan-fry the springbok and cook until it’s medium rare, pale pinkish in colour,
or to taste.
To make the Pinotage foam, place the Pinotage into a pan and reduce it to 350ml.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Once cooled, whisk in the egg whites.
Over a double boiler, place the Pinotage and egg whites in a glass bowl without
the bottom of the bowl touching the water. Cook until the mixture begins to
thicken, making sure you whisk all the time. Cool and pour into a siphon gun
loaded with a cream charger.
To serve, slice the springbok and arrange it on the plate, along with the roast
potatoes, baby marrow strips, julienned rocket and sliced banana. Smother with
the foam. Place a little of the red wine jus on the springbok and sprinkle with
The Key to Pairing
Of primary importance when pairing wine and food is balancing the weight or intensity
of the two components. The classic assessors of savoury, sweet, tannic, acidic
and bitter are all subsets of this, but it is more useful to aim for a general
impression of the wine as a starting point. Decide for yourself on the wine’s
dominant personality: is it light or heavy? Is it piercing or mellow, supple or
very firm? Once you do this, expect unusual matches to work as well as the ones
you may already know.
We all have highly individualised palates. What for one is sweet is tart for another,
and my tolerance for tannin may be far lower than yours. Because we are therefore
dabbling in a strictly pseudo-science, forget rules and opt for a general symbiosis.
In this way, you aim to please most palates. Taste the wine and get an idea of
its personality by assessing its weight and intensity, and then what its primary
flavours are (though these are less important as they will be modulated by the
Pairing is mostly about balance – making sure that the wine and the food punch
in the same weight division. Fresh whites with fresh, light tastes and plush,
soft reds with food that is not too complex or savoury, as this type of food is
better with tannic, structured wines (heavier wines). But it can also be about
contrast – here the wine represents a new and perhaps opposing dimension to the
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