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WINE ROUTE: Pinotage or coffee or both?

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Bertus “Starbucks” Fourie is credited with starting the wave of popularity of the new “Coffee, chocolate, mocha, cacao” flavoured Pinotages which have been the popular choice “receiving most votes overall” from those attending Winex, which was held in Cape Town recently. And, interestingly, have been studiously ignored by most of the judges in the annual ABSA Top Ten Pinotages. The sniff and spitterati wine writers tar these wines with the same brush as they do the additives to the Sauvignon Blanc, which caused a whirlpool in the local wine spittoon a couple of years ago. These same people are quite happy with the effect that oak has on cabernet Chardonnay and the rest of the wines conventionally wooded in with or on French, American, Hungarian, Rumanian, Yugoslavian and Russian oak.

Fourie made his name at Diemersfontein where he created this style of Pinotage, now advertised as The People’s Pinotage and The Original Chocolate Coffee Pinotage. Bertus moved on to KWV where he bottled thousands of cases of the hit Café Culture Pinotage, which was so well received at The Soweto Wine Show, introducing a whole new world of drinkers firstly to Pinotage and then by natural progression on to other wines.

Now operating as MD of Val de Vie, a plush wine, polo and residential estate on the banks of the Berg River, Bertus’ expertise in producing this style of wine has spawned Barista, which I tasted recently and so enjoyed. Apart from the palate friendliness of the wine – ripe rolling silky smooth tannins – and the blast of ripe sun warmed mulberries, sweet black cherries and ripe sweet sour prune plums, there are indeed flavours of vanilla, coffee and chocolate. Strong flavours too.

Of course this is not exactly a new science. The winemakers of Graves, a region of southwest France in the Garonne river valley, found long ago that strong coffee aromas have been found in their white wines. This as a result of the formation of a chemical compound – furfurylthiol – during fermentation in oak barrels or on oak staves from furfuryl that is released by the toasted oak staves. Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz wines also show, particularly, coffee undertones. Clever combinations of maturation oak and yeasts for fermentation simply exaggerate the coffee and Chocó mocha whiffs and tastes.  So, rest assured, there is no coffee essence in the wine, nor are coffee bushes grown on the edges of the vineyards to waft flavours of roasted coffee across the vines during ripening.

If you want the coffee Pinotage experience, land a bottle of Barista, Café Culture or the new Boland Cellar Cappuccino Pinotage at under 50 bucks a pop, and the Diemersfontein for a tad more.

Michael Olivier is a wine writer and broadcaster and author of The People’s Guide – navigate the winelands in a shopping trolley.