Pinotage got off to a good start to 2013 in an unlikely place – the columns of the Wall Street Journal. Long-time Pinotage-hater Lettie Teague penned an unexpected column headed Does Much-Unloved Pinotage Deserve Another Look? before answering her rhetorical question in the affirmative. For Lettie has long boasted about her antipathy to SA’s great grape with the same offhanded brio bigots use to parade their racist, anti-semitic and homophobic prejudices. Her last swipe was as recently as October in a drive-by shooting of the grape in a Californian Merlot story.
Pinotage pressure was obviously brought to bear on Lettie as the first half of the story is an attempt to cover her spreading Saartjie Baartmans. “Were my feelings about Pinotage really fair—or, for that matter, accurate? After all, it had been quite a few years since I tasted much Pinotage; perhaps there had been some changes in winemaking or viticulture. Perhaps there were even some overlooked gems?” Unlikely. Lettie’s Pinotage position was more likely driven by fashion, ignorance, humpty-dumptyism and a failure to taste a representative bouquet of styles.
Shortcomings which have now been (partially) rectified, following a letter to the WSJ from “Koncerned in Klapmuts.” But oh for some grace, rather than trolling for exculpatory quotes and asking local retailers why they stock Vin de Constance which was recently praised to the sky by Robert Parker’s representative in South Africa, Neal Martin. As Lettie breathlessly vouchsafes, VdC is also the favourite wine of living saint Nelson Mandela.
“ ‘Pinotage is either South Africa’s signature red variety or its worst vinous ambassador.’ I’m assuming the latter assessment has mostly to do with the trademark Pinotage aromas, which typically can include spray paint and burnt tires (although bananas and smoke have been detected as well). The spray-paint and burnt-tire aromas are the characteristics that I particularly hated (or, rather, objected to). Apparently, Pinotage growers aren’t too keen on them either, as ‘Wine Grapes’ [the new grape Bible by Jancis Robinson] says that research is under way at Stellenbosch University to determine their cause. A definitive cause has yet to be found.”
Nor will it be, as the study was an attempt to see if there was any basis (apart from fashion) to counter the charges of “burnt rubber” levelled at SA reds in general by Jane MacQuitty, Tim Atkin and the usual UK suspects some years ago after SA beat the UK at rugby. It was never seen as a peculiarly problem of Pinotage.
Still Pinotage producers should be thankful for small mercies as the WSJ, both dead-tree and digital, does have a circulation of 3.8 million according to Wikipedia. And WSJ readers will have the nous to appreciate the liquid analogue of someone eating her own words when they read it.
SA Pinotage producers owe a debt of gratitude to “Koncerned from Klapmuts” and know who he is. Certainly not an official marketer charged with promoting SA wines in the Home of the Brave. Something to drink with the food for thought on how to promote SA wine in the Land of the Free.