Pinotage was developed in South Africa in 1925 by Abraham Izak Perold who was attempting to combine the best of two varieties: Pinot Noir and what was then referred to as Hermitage (today’s Cinsault). Since that time the clonal creation has become somewhat of South Africa’s “heritage grape,” if you will. It’s with that sentiment that South African natives and owners of Fort Ross Vineyard, Linda and Lester Schwartz sourced Pinotage bud wood from the original founding blocks of their native homeland shortly after establishing their Sonoma Coast vineyard estate. They are, in fact, the first private growers to import such cuttings and, eventually, sell commercially. Their estate Pinotage consists of two Fort Ross proprietary clones, MM1 and MM3, developed at UC Davis from that originally imported budwood.

About the Wine: The Fort Ross Vineyard 2012 Pinotage is made from 100% Pinotage grapes harvested from the Fort Ross estate vineyards located in the Fort Ross AVA of Sonoma County, California. Grapes were hand-picked and hand-sorted, after which they were cold soaked for several days. The wine fermented in a single 5-ton tank with daily punch downs. The wine was pressed into 100% French oak barrels (15% new; 85% seasoned) where it aged for 10 months before bottling unfiltered and unfined.

14% ABV

Flavor Profile: Open the bottle of the and breathe in aromas of dark, dense fruits — blueberries, black plums, black cherries — dark chocolate, and wet, muddy soil. On the pour this Pinotage is a deep-set maroon with an aura of milk chocolate brown. In the glass the wine is nearly completely opaque in its rusty maroon color, with just a ribbon of lighter rouge along the outermost perimeter.

Initial aromas are of chocolate, brandy, black cherries, cassis, and wet bramble. Swirl and release the intensity of that fruit’s plump juices, find some vivacity with a thin line of acidity. Dive the nose deep to find a bouquet of dried rose petal potpourri. Float the nose above the mouth of the glass to find a hint of juicy, gamey umami.

The palate is immediately full and plush with purposeful tannins. Indeed, they are intense and the dominant texture, providing a thick tree-trunk of a backbone to this hearty wine. Like a tree, the fruits seem to naturally stem from that solid stalk. Dominant flavors are in keeping with the nose: black plums, rich blueberries, chewy currants, and that constant undertone of mocha. There is a slender ribbon of acidity that keeps the freshness in the fruits alive throughout the tasting and leading the way to a long, lingering finish filled with one of the most eclectic mouthful of flavors I’ve experienced.

Note: While you can enjoy this wine right out of the bottle, I recommend letting settle in decanter for 30 to 40 minutes prior to enjoying.

Note: While I did enjoy this wine upon release, it is certainly ageable for up to ten to twelve years.

Food Pairing: I enjoyed the Fort Ross Vineyard 2012 Pinotage at the winery alongside winemaker Jeff Pisoni. While I didn’t have this with a meal, I strongly recommend pairing this Pinotage with a heartier, stewier fare. The winery recommends: “The textural complexities and intensity pair beautifully with exotic spices, Italian food, as well as smoked and grilled meats.” Personally I would recommend slow-cooked meats, tenderized by hours of cooking and developing in a flavorsome sauce.

More Info: I received the Fort Ross Vineyard 2012 Pinotage as a sample for review. (Cheers Jeff!) Retail: $58. For more information about Fort Ross Vineyard, their wines, and to purchase wine directly, please visit the Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery website.

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