Portugal has Baga and Uruguay has Tannat. In SA, Pinotage is the unfashionable red grape that foreigners love to poke fun at. Lettie Teague, who writes on wine for the Wall Street Journal, wears her Pinotage aversion on her sleeve (well the homepage of her website actually) which proclaims “she loves most wines of the world except Pinotage. She has never had a good Pinotage.” A remarkable advertisement for prejudice that jars with the professionalism expected from the WSJ. And as for the opinion of “Dr.” Jade Goodie, the UK wine blogger and neoprene neophyte flown to SA to not choose Pinotage for the Nederburg Auction…
But could all this bad press be about to change through rugby? Judging wine at the Concours Mondial in Bratislava, I bumped into caviste Christian Bedat (above with Fiona McDonald, SA’s most respected foreign taster no matter how fast the revolting Wine Lizard spins own bowtie).
Christian owns two wine shops in Biarritz in the South West of France. Two of the top 14 French rugby teams, Bayonne and Biarritz, are within 5Km of his home and he is friends with many professional rugby players from SA playing in France: winger Sam Gerber, centre Jacques Louis Potgieter, full back Scott Spedding, wing Gert Muller and #8 Dewald Senekal who bring him Pinotage and biltong from their frequent trips home to SA. In fact Madame Bedat teaches French to Senekal and they are family friends.
Christian has been selling wine for 23 years after his parents sold their restaurant in the Landes Department between Bordeaux and the Basque Country of Spain. A holiday and gastronomic destination with endless beaches popular with Dutch and German nudists.
Christian finds Pinotage “interesting” but notes that most of the available brands are cheap versions sold in supermarkets. He lists The Bean from Mooiplaas in his two shops: Cellier des Docks and Cellier des Halles. As the name implies, The Bean is a coffee/mocha variant that is often a way into Pinotage for lovers of milkshakes and Starbucks creations. Pioneered by Diemersfontein in Wellington, this is a love-it or hate-it style of wine so popular, I dubbed it The People’s Pinotage many years ago.
The second week of July saw the annual blind judging of 100+ Pinotages entered for the ABSA Top Ten Competition (which is actually a Top Twenty) and a good place to start promoting Pinotage overseas would be to begin in France, a country which producers of some of the finest (and certainly most expensive) wines in the world. This is proper blind judging and not the grooming you get when the Sauvignon Blanc Interest Group decides on the FNB Top Ten Pinotages. A real Bradford experience, by all accounts.
Which is exactly what we did as Christian bought six cases of our Pinotage: Naughty Boy of SA wine exhibition yesterday and they’re about to depart for the hexagon, where they’ll be tasted in the run up to the test in Paris.
Rugby could become a handy Trojan Horse to smuggle the uniquely SA grape into Bordeaux, if not the heart then certainly the brain of French wine. An appellation which on its own produces more wine than the whole of SA, but nothing quite like Pinotage. Bordeaux is the favourite brand for Chinese wine lovers so if SA can defeat France in the cellar as convincingly as they do on the rugby field, the Middle Kingdom should be a walkover.