SideBar: Spilling the beans
Admen are not joking when they say Red Bull gives you wings: three billion cans of the stuff are sold each year. Amy Winehouse, the torch-song diva who flew too close to the flame, was a big fan, apparently.
UK tabloid The Sun claimed she downed "gallons" of gin and Red Bull the day before her death.
The secret of the energy drink's success is caffeine, a powerful stimulant whose usual delivery vehicle is coffee, a libation so addictive and fashionable that the coffee shops of 17th-century Europe have now spread across the planet.
So when Bertus Fourie, winemaker at Diemersfontein a decade ago, discovered by accident that pinotage reacts to extreme wooding by exhibiting the aromatics and flavours of a rich espresso, it was a fortuitous mistake indeed. Fourie told the Bolander that "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. The beauty of this style is that it's only Pinotage that gives this beautiful fruit and coffee flavour" as he tried it without result on Merlot and Shiraz.
Sales of Diemersfontein Pinotage shot off the scale and Fourie was enticed to repeat his brew at KWV. Café Culture was the result, a wine which was hailed as the best SA red at an International Wine Challenge in Vietnam, the world's second-largest producer of coffee after Brazil.
Barista was Fourie's next venture at Val de Vie and soon the style had gobbled up 80% of the pinotage market by volume, with imitators such as Beanotage from Marius Malan, Le Café from Clos Malverne and African Java from Van Loveren surfacing.
Not surprisingly it's popular in the US where coffee is king. The Grinder is one leading brand that states "no, there's no coffee (or caffeine) added", but last year at a food-processing conference in Cape Town some academics from the University of Pretoria reported that they were investigating whether it was possible to make coffee aromas and flavours without coffee beans. They tested four pinotage wines made in the coffee/mocha style and one of the samples showed high levels of caffeine, which would imply that it had been intimate with a bean, an illegal -additive for a wine. If the caffeine had came from wood or grapes, all samples would be expected to show it and there would have been no reason to fuss.
My contacts in the pinotage fraternity knew about the study and had been expecting some reaction from the media. This has now finally come to the boil, though to describe the official reaction as snail-like is an insult to gastropods. Everyone, from the Pinotage Association, to exporters' association WOSA, is waiting for the Department of Agriculture to formulate a response. Perhaps they need a cup of coffee to wake up.
. Read Pendock Uncorked at http://blogs.thetimes.co.za/pendock