Coffee-flavoured wine – WTF?

Cathy Marston tackles the caffeine issue surrounding wines.

10 Mar 2011

Apologies for the offensive abbreviation everybody, but really, what is going on with all these coffee-flavoured wines?

It all started with Diemersfontein about ten years ago when Bertus ‘Starbucks’ Fourie discovered that the Aussies were making some rather interesting Shirazes using staves instead of barrels (which means fewer costs) and which had some very distinctive flavours of coffee, chocolate and mocha – for the record, none of these things are added to the wine, it’s simply to do with the wood – how much it’s toasted and at what point it’s added. A little experimentation, and the fastest-growing wine style in SA was born. 
I originally tasted the Diemersfontein Pinotage almost ten years ago – it was one of the first wineries our friend took us to when we started our search for wines to stock in The Nose. Apart from our house Sauvignon, I doubt whether we ever sold another wine quite as popular as this one. We regularly used to get emails throughout season from tourists who had visited The Nose and found “the most fabulous wine which we totally loved and would really like to drink now that we are back home in the UK/Sweden/Timbuktu.” And that was all they needed to say – they didn’t need to tell me if it was red or white or even attempt to remember the name – the only wine which ever inspired such loving fanaticism was the Diemersfontein Pinotage.
Of course, no good thing can be left alone. Bertus left the farm and went to KWV – hello Café Culture. From there he set up his own thing – Barista – and after that, a coffee/chocolate explosion occurred. Nowadays there are a myriad different versions of the Pinotage plus several other varieties such as a Malbec (Mocholate from Vrede en Lust), Tinta Barocca (Tinta Chocolate from Boplaas) and now even a dessert wine from De Krans called Expresso. It seems that everyone wants some coffee with their wine.
Or do they? Opinion about these coffee wines is divided between the wine fundis both here and overseas. Some say that these are artificially-contrived flavours which dumb down wine and devalue the whole wine sector. On the other hand, supporters say that if people enjoy them, then at least they are drinking wine as opposed to beer or spirits so that can only be good for the wine industry in the long run.
I am firmly of the latter camp – in my view, people should drink the wines they enjoy and if that means choc/coffs, then by all means choco-mocho-coffo it up all over the place. The only problem for me is that I HATE coffee. Of all kinds. Coffee sweets, coffee cakes, second-hand coffee (my husband always has to decide whether he hopes to get lucky before he orders an espresso at the end of an evening) – all of them are absolute anathema to me. It’s proving a bit difficult for PR’s who want me to taste their new wines, but I know I’m going to hate them before I even unscrew the cap.
Is the tide turning for these styles of wines? I’d say no – witness the two new ones which arrived on my doorstep last week – and I think we will see plenty more for the next few years at least. Still – at least it’s a hardworking wine, well it is as far as my husband is concerned anyway. After all, it’s not often you get wine, dessert, coffee AND a foolproof contraceptive all in the same glass.
Clos Malverne Le Café Pinotage 2010     R85.90 from leading retailers
Slight spritz on entry quickly gives way to rich mouthful of chocolate initially, then coffee. Soft and juicy tannins, enough black fruit for balance and nice length. That’s my note. My husband said “It’s really good, this stuff. What is it again?” before moving into the spare room.
De Krans Espresso NV    R55 for a half bottle from leading retailers
This is a sort of port although all the press releases deny it, but it’s sweet, more alcoholic than a normal wine and comes in a small bottle so seems to fit. Packs a big coffee/chocolate punch but the sweetness is actually quite attractive. Husband said “This would be nice poured over vanilla ice cream” and I slept alone once more.

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