29 November 2007

Saddle aromas are not Pinotage

In a recent letter to UK trade magazine “Harpers”, Nigel Logan asked for an explanation for the underlying aromas of plastic, hung game, and Elastoplast that are frequently said to be characteristic of Pinotage, but which Nigel said he found on many South African red wines.

Master of Wine Igor Ryjenkov from Toronto replied, blaming it on a robust and “particularly resistant strain of Brettanomyces”, which he was told by Bruce Jack of Flagstone winery at a question-and-answer session in Canada in 2004.

This strain of yeast, writes Igor, “is present in the majority of South African vineyards as a part of the ambient yeast cocktail. While usually preferring much less sugar-rich mediums, in South Africa it goes to work right after harvest, wherever there is any juice present. It is much more sulphur-tolerant, and is even active at the pH levels believed to be sufficient to stave off the Brett activity.

With the reduced arsenal of weapons against this strain of Brett, the role of cellar hygiene, plays an even more important role, as does temperature control at all the stages of the grape-to-wine conversion. Greater attention than usual has to be paid to curb this yeast activity at early stages of winemaking, which are normally considered safe from Brett infection, as any lapse in vigilance results in Brett activity”

However, South African winemakers are aware of the problem and are combating it. “The wine consumer is soon to learn that “sweaty horse” or “saddle” aromas are not a part of the Pinotage varietal character, or true South African terroir,” says Igor, adding that “cleaner wines showing purer varietal expression, if welcome by consumer at large, will further complicate the life for wine-trade students and other blind-format tasters.”

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