The growing coffee culture has been so significant that it has seemingly seeped into the wine-speak and winemaking practices of local wineries – and not so recently either. In fact, as we Capetonians were gingerly entering the new millennium with our first cuppa of the year in hand, winemaker Bertus Fourie was making a brew of quite another kind out Wellington way.
Fast-forward to 2016 and what started out as an experiment at Diemersfontein winery, and saw a dramatic growth in Pinotage’s popularity in South Africa and overseas, has become an innovation which has inspired many other local winemakers. The infamous coffee-styled Pinotage with its distinctive mocha and dark chocolate character has helped to “demystify” wine, making it more accessible to those who were shy of Pinotage or of austere red wines or perhaps wine-shy altogether.
So how many beans does it take to make a bottle of the Java juice? None at all, actually. The secret lies not in coffee culture but in yeast culture. The moreish mocha flavour is achieved by using a specific yeast strain to ferment the grape juice. Wine is then aged in wooden barrels with insides that have been “toasted” (scorched) to caramelise the natural sugars in the wood. To be more scientific: The yeast produces precursors for the “coffee aromas” (called furfural thiols by oenologists) “How many beans does it take to make a bottle of Java juice? None actually.” which have been identified in roasted coffee beans. The fermentation is completed using oak which, as a function of its toasting, yields the same furfural thiols, so adding more of the coffee aroma. Different toasting temperatures yield different aromatics in the oak. You may have noticed smoky, spicy flavours in other red wines or vanilla and butterscotch in your Chardonnays – these, too, come from the toasting of the oak.
Expensive oak barrels can be skipped altogether as winemakers can choose to impart more coffee aroma and flavour by using heavily toasted oak chips or staves inside stainless steel tanks. Staves are large flat planks of the same oak that are used to produce wine barrels. They are cheaper as they aren’t crafted into barrels and don’t take up as much space when being shipped. Fourie’s most recent project is the Barista Coffee Pinotage. He explains that for this wine, he flew to the cooperage in France and worked with the coopers on what he calls the “Barista House” toast profile, which is used for a particular portion of the wine. The focus remains on guaranteeing a homogenous, complex style where coffee, chocolate and fruit aromas amplify each other’s intensity.
Other coffee-styled Pinotages to try are the Darling Cellars Chocoholic Pinotage and the Van Loveren Africa Java Pinotage.
CityLife wine columnist Ginette de Fleuriot is a Cape Wine Master.