Bertus, Bertus, see what you have done!

Can’t we take out an injunction against this sort of thing? despairingly wondered a fellow hack who’d also received a press release about a new wine called Boplaas Tinta Chocolat. News of this latest vinous gift to an eager world came on the same day that the Grape team screwed up its courage and tasted Vrede en Lust’s Mocholate Malbec. Surely Cabernet Cacao must be next – and we already have quite a few Chocmint Merlots that just need to proudly proclaim the fact.

It was disheartening enough to learn that visitors to Winex – not just in Gauteng where we Capetonians think they like their wine to be either very expensive or sweet, but also in Cape Town – rated coffee pinotage, in its various incarnations, as their top red. It was even more disconcerting when one of Jancis Robinson’s henchmen sampled a range of pinotages in London and gave his top marks to Diemersfontein – the one invented by bloody Bertus “Starbucks” Fourie, who inaugurated what is looking to become an unstoppable trend.

For, now that most of the vineyards of pinotage in the Cape look doomed to coffeedom (come back acetone and rusty nails, all is forgiven!), the winemakers are starting on the other varieties. The producers of oak staves, for fermenting the grape juice on to get the right flavour, must be smirking very happily. Even tinta barocca now (as we misspell the grape’s name in South Africa – elsewhere it’s “barroca”), which will presumably be diverted from those delicious ports that we insufficiently appreciate. And Malbec, with all its delicious wild fruitiness bashed on the head by charry oak planks….

Actually, Vrede en Lust’s Mocholate Malbec 2009 (it costs R69) is not too bad at all. Cathy van Zyl and I scored it 14.5/20 and Angela Lloyd and Ingrid Motteux gave it 13.5 – Angela found that the staves had made it a bit too roughly drying. The choc isn’t terribly overt – but to me it was rather like biting into one of those liqueur chocolates, the one with a maraschino cherry quivering inside. But it’s well-made, bright and quite fresh, not overripe, lush or jammy – in fact it could have been rather good wine! All I can really say is that if you like the better, subtler kinds of coffee pinotage, like Bloody Bertus’s Barista, then you’ll probably enjoy this one too, when you feel like a bit of a change but are not quite ready for grown-up drinking.

If I get to taste the Boplaas – or any of the others of this ilk that are no doubt gathering themselves into a tsunami somewhere off the coast of Wellington or wherever, I shall dutifully report.

Rather sadly, and rather sadly continuing the theme, the Vrede en Lust is actually, I think, a superior wine to a much more apparently serious wine that we tasted on the same day: the Louis Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot 2007. I mentioned how many local merlots offer choc-mint, and that is certainly the case here. The wine is notably chocolatey, though I can’t imagine that this is what Louis Nel really wanted. His press release does, however, speak of eucalyptus trees near the vineyard that might be responsible for some of the character (but there are a lot of minty merlots, of course, which have never even seen a eucalyptus).

This wine, and a Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, both from Helderberg vines, are the maiden offerings under his own name by a man who made some good wines for Warwick, and then for Hidden Valley (where he apparently still is, despite what seemed to be a departure earlier this year amid reports/rumours that the Hidden Valley cellar was being mothballed). The blend, particularly, is ultra-ripe, with a lush sweetness, tarry oak and a big whack of tannin that seemed to us to derive as much from oak as from fruit. Perhaps it’ll harmonise with a year or two in bottle. Three of us rated it 14/20, but Ingrid liked it rather more (she found “compact fruit” and gave it 16). It costs R100.

Ingrid was also the champion for the Louis Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, which costs a lot more: R240 – never let it be said that we rate wines according to price or to the winemaker’s reputation! She scored it 16.5; Angela and I were also up a half-point over the blend, at 14.5, and Cathy splashed out with 15. Certainly this wine is rather fresher and a touch more restrained (though also very ripe), and the big, extracted tannins are in somewhat better balance with the rich cassis fruit.

I’m not sure exactly how the Cabernet relates to the version sold by Louis earlier this year at the Cape Winemakers Guild Auction (I didn’t taste that), but probably closely. That one, called “Neighbour’s Wrath” was much liked by American Steve Tanzer amongst others, and in fact this seems to me quite a Californian style – but surely a big, ultra-ripe style of Californian wine that is starting to slip out of fashion (and the style – recipe, even – is also getting less common here, I’m glad to say).

So it might well be that others will like Louis Cab more than we did (a Platter Guide panel rated it four stars, and the Cab-Merlot three stars, by the way). Especially if they do enjoy a hint or two of chocolate in wine but are not prepared to admit it openly.

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