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Bananas, of all things! As aromas, they do not belong in wine - according to the usual pattern. In wine evaluation, "banana-like" is more of a swear word than a distinction. In Chardonnay, it is tolerated by a narrow margin, but in very young red wines it is unfortunately encountered from time to time. But that's a thing of the past: banana aromas evaporate quickly. That's why the advice we hear again and again: if you love banana wines, you should drink them as soon as possible. Otherwise the banana will be gone. Unless it is Pinotage, the most South African of all South African wines.

Banana plantations in South Africa

The World Cup has also brought South Africa closer to the wine world. Mario Scheuermann, the German wine journalist and football enthusiast recommends: "My World Cup wine of the evening: Tukulku (I assume it should be Tukulu) Pinotage 2007 - juicy, fruity, sweet, enjoyable. He leaves out the "bananig", it would probably meet with too much disapproval in the land of Rieslings. Wrongly, in my opinion. The dominant fruit notes of Pinotage include banana, as well as bitter almond. But the imaginary wine bananas must not be mushy, overripe and sweet-dominant, just as little as green, unripe and acidic. The Tukulu Pinotage, however, belongs - in my experience - rather to the more serious, heavier, not to say melancholic Pinotage wines. The fun character lies more in the game of football (if you are not Italian or even French) than in the accompanying wine, because the Pinotage suits the cold at the night games far better than summer temperatures in front of the screens in Europe.

On the Waterfront in Cape Town. In search of the best Pinotage.

"Pinotage is a hard sell in the big wine world," I was told. In fact, the vine bred at Stellenbosch University some eighty years ago and the wine made from it was not very familiar to me either until now. I just knew the name and the origin (a cross between Cinsault and Pinot Noir) and the mother country, South Africa. Nothing more.

Then, when we were travelling on wine routes in South Africa shortly before the World Cup, I was mainly interested in what is typically South African. In the case of wine, Pinotage. I never missed an opportunity to get a little closer to this wine. And I got closer to it, so close that I poured a Pinotage at the Swiss team's fateful match against Honduras: "Carpe diem" ("seize the day!") from the South African winery Diemersfontein. But it was all to no avail. The game ended in a draw, but the team lost, they were sent back, home. What remains in my memory is not the 90 minutes on the pitch, but the experience of Pinotage, combined with all the memories of a wine region unknown to me until months ago.

Football% admittedly an important minor matter in the world. But on the horizon lies Stellenbosch% the most important wine region of South Africa.

Although this time - the wine was vintage 2006 - I was not able to discover the typical banana notes that I have always encountered on my Pinotage discovery tour, I was able to strengthen my conviction: Pinotage is much better than its reputation. Even the Swiss tabloid newspaper - thanks to the World Cup! - and ran the headline: "Pinotage, a diva - often green and bananas." On our trip, I must have tasted and/or drunk twenty or more Pinotages. The banana thing is true, but the "green notes" are no more common in Pinotage than in other South African wines, which (all too) often struggle with the natural ageing process: lots of heat, lots of sweetness before physiological maturity is reached. This often results in a high alcohol content, occasionally combined with green notes. South African wines - in my experience - tend to do this. Pinotage, however, not more often than the many blends I encountered on the estates.

Famous wineries are especially proud of their Bordeaux blends. For example, "Rubicon" at the Meerlust winery.

Bordeaux blends or South African blends are always the centre of attention. It seems to me as if people want to hide those wines that are actually only made in South Africa. A character that can be assigned to a country or a wine region - like the cuvée to Bordeaux - is always preferable to me than the thousands of copies of a wine style that simply sells well. However, if you want to drink not only independent wine but also good wine, wine that really gives you pleasure and joy, then you have to look for the best wines.

PICTUREU 348305.jpg,The Saxenburg wine estate in Stellenbosch. An excellent Pinotage is pressed here,,,468,238$$

This is no different in South Africa than in any other wine region, just like Burgundy or Bordeaux. Only the references are not the same. If the benchmark in Bordelais is Pétrus, for example, and in Burgundy Romanée Conti, South Africa has far fewer famous names and glittering estates to show for it. But a Pinotage from Kanonkop - for example - is a reference and proof of enormous originality. I would also count the Pinotage from Laibach among the good references, as well as those from Scali, von Spier, DeWaal, Saxenburg and Beyerskloof. But wait, I'm getting into listing. For me, it's about something else: about what makes Pinotage lovable and enjoyable, independent and full of character. These are - in the fruit notes - bananas, alongside plums, cherries, even chocolate.

Much too sweet, my Bordeaux friends complain. Others think it's too alcoholic, others say it's not elegant enough. And so they are finished off, the "fine bananas" in the wine from the country of the 2010 World Cup. When the German team wins against their arch-rivals from England, of course, they don't serve Pinotage, but Riesling, in the mistaken opinion that Pinotage can be drunk in autumn at the earliest and really only with springbok, kudu and South African bobotie.

On the road in search of clues in the wine regions of South Africa.

I know that bananas come from Colombia, Costa Rica or Ecuador, while apples come from South Africa. This time, however, I am not in favour of apples, but of South African bananas, albeit hidden in wine. Even if they only betray a hint of their typical fragrance and are more reminiscent of the far less sweet plantain than of the ripe, yellow fruit. Perhaps many wine lovers will feel like me, who from now on will no longer exclaim: "of all things, bananas are what you want from me", but: "of all things, Pinotage often and always suits me".



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