One hears often that Pinot Noir is a “heartbreak grape” due to its thin skin making it more susceptible to rot and frost. Canada’s Baco Noir in my experience might deserve the moniker of a heartbreak grape because much of it is of poor quality. Pinotage from South Africa can also be dicey. I have had some superbly aged Pinotage but on the other hand have had a few bottles that revealed a rubber tire smelling wine. It’s been a while since I had a Pinotage so perhaps South African winemakers have cleaned up their game.
We try a Pinotage called “The Bean” from the Western Cape of South Africa. No this is not some gimmicky flavoured wine tainted by coffee beans! No it’s flavour “creates an unusual expression for wine, with deep mocha and roasted coffee bean flavours derived from French oak” claims its label.
I have often said that many South African wines have a very earthy aspect to them and this Pinotage shouts out this South African identifier on its nose. Quite frankly one might say it has a funky aroma but decant it and give it some time to breathe and that off-putting funkiness starts to dissipate giving rise to some intense blackberry, black cherry, root beer and yes a hint of espresso. Fresh air is a blessing for this wine! The funk might still be there but it has moved to a tertiary characteristic.
On the palate there are some broad based and even tannins. But there is a pervasive presence of black fruit that is well integrated into the wine creating can I say a unified taste where it is difficult to precisely identify any particular fruit. Its grippy but full of life with lots of juicy ripe fruit that is just a bit difficult to identify. While I can pick out the mocha I can’t pick out the coffee which is fine with me. I see beer infused with all sorts of fruit and coffee and being a traditionalist, I see that as a it of heresy. I certainly don’t want my wine tasting of coffee! I almost did not want to purchase the wine when I saw a coffee bean on its label. There may be many wine drinkers sharing my reluctance. I note as well the oak influence is minimal and my guess this is not new French oak.
You want my opinion. This is a slightly quirky but perfectly drinkable on its own. In its soul I see it as proudly South African. Unfortunately, I have not been in South Africa so I have not seen Pinotage in the context of South African food. Domestically I say good with beef or for vegheads a Mushroom Wellington that is devilishly time consuming to make but worth the effort.
You can drink now and enjoy but I think this might improve in the next two years so consume by the end of 2024.
(The Bean 2020 Coffee Pinotage, Ross Family Vineyards, Stellenbosch, South Africa, $15.95, Liquor Control Board of Ontario #251165, 750 ml, 14.5%, Robert K. Stephen A Little Birdie Told Me So Rating 91/100).