Pinotage Tasting – In Search of the Rubbery Pong

Andrew Adrian, who has presented several other interesting Slow Food wine tastings is going to take us on a journey of discovery to hunt the down the much written and talked about burnt rubber and dirt odour in several top South African wines.

In October last year, the Times (the English version) wine writer, Jane McQuitty, shoved the proverbial burly Springbok rugby players into the fine wine cellar when she wrote the following after blind-tasted a run of the country’s flagship and mostly Bordeaux-inspired blended red wines:

“It’s not just South Africa’s prop forwards that are big, burly bruisers. Most South African red wines come out of the scrum smelling of something distinctly other than violets. Unlike other hot, arid southern hemisphere countries which have mostly eradicated their archaic pongs, South Africa has yet to tame its peculiar, savage, burnt rubber and dirt odour. Other commentators either fail to take offence, or euphemistically dismiss the smell and taste as “smoky”, “earthy” or “tarry”. South Africans themselves are tolerant of their country’s distinctive red wine characteristic, and even British merchants specialising in Cape wines often just don’t see it.”

“Hard to know precisely what produces the smell. It is nothing to do with the weird, jammy, nail varnish scent that is the hallmark of South Africa’s own indigenous pinotage grape – a cross between pinot noir and cinsault – though this variety frequently suffers from the pong. Nor should it be confused with the deliciously tasty, savoury quality that lots of South African reds reek of (reminiscent of olive or tomato paste). Nor do I think it has anything to do with the occasionally rubbery, rotten egg-scented hydrogen sulphide infection that the previous generation of Aussie reds suffered from.

So far all South African commentators can come up with is that they think this burnt rubber smell is associated either with unacceptably high yields, virused vines, a pH-related bacterial infection, or that it’s just what occurs during a typical Cape red wine ferment and maceration session.”

Andrew has sourced the wines that were tasted and he will conduct the Pinotage tasting. First we’ll try and find out what the rubbery, dirty pong smells like. Then, using his extensive wine tasting experience and his knowledge as a chemist, Andrew will guide us in trying to determine  possibles causes for the “pong”.

There will 8 wines for tasting. These will include some of the country’s best reds and a few non-SA wines for comparative purposes.

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