Get your caffeine fix in a bottle of wine
Love it or hate it but “coffee pinotage” is developing a strong following.
Aficionados love the chocolate-mocha overtones while detractors shun these, saying it overpowers the intrinsic flavours of this varietal and does not complement food but rather overshadows it.
Be that as it may, this style of wine first stepped out of the wilderness when Bertus Fourie, then winemaker and viticulturalist at Diemersfontein in Wellington, crafted a pinotage at the start of the new millennium that created a considerable stir, and went on to garner him a coveted Absa Top 10 Pinotage award.
From Diemersfontein, Bertus (whose nickname is Starbucks, for that chain of coffee shops across America where you can get your caffeine fix) went on to make a similar pinotage for KWV called Café Culture.
Now he’s managing director at Val de Vie (brother Martin is winemaker) where he’s just released another coffee pinotage, called Barista. This style of pinotage has an interesting history and according to Bertus, it all came about when he started experimenting with the use of oak staves in wine during his time at Diemersfontein. “I wanted a budget for oak barrels, but this wasn’t granted as it was considered too large at the time, and I had to adapt,” he says. Initially the oak staves were used on shiraz and this was followed with merlot. It was almost by accident that pinotage was next in line. “
The 2001 harvest was extremely hot and I had to do something with my pinotage grapes. So they too were fermented on the staves. “The ‘coffee taste’ is a result of the function of the metabolism of the yeast combined with the effect of the oak staves on the wine,” he says, revealing that “the beauty of this style is that it’s only pinotage that gives this beautiful fruit and coffee flavour.”
Bertus has spent a considerable time experimenting with yeasts and oak for his masters in oenology, and perfecting this style of wine. For his latest pinotage, which Bertus says he thinks is the top coffee pinotage he has yet produced, the grapes all came from the Robertson area and the wine was crafted in a Robertson cellar.
The grapes were selected from seven different blocs, that all have rich red soil, thus yielding fantastically intense flavours. The wine has a burst of intense, rich coffee and chocolate aromas with ripe nuances of mulberry, plum and Maraschino cherries.
The aromas follow through onto the palate, enhanced by sweet whiffs of vanilla and butterscotch. Tasted initially a few weeks ago, we sample it as we chat in the Val de Vie tasting room, and along with those characteristic mocha notes, there’s a pungent fruit and cherry flavour: “plums and Christmas cake,” comments Bertus.
Like many others, Bertus believes his coffee pinotage is a good way of spreading the gospel of pinotage internationally, saying, “The wine does not speak of terroir, as oak plays the dominant role, accounting for its coffee and chocolate flavours – the richness of coffee beans and the smoothness of creamy chocolate.” “It’s been an interesting journey,” he sums up. “It’s my ninth year of making this style of coffee pinotage but we are still not at the peak. We’ve learned a hell of a lot and next year, with our 10th anniversary of crafting this style, we’ll do it a hell of a lot differently.”
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