jamie goode's wine blog: Burnt Rubber: the great South African wine debate

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Burnt Rubber: the great South African wine debate

Here's a film from an event held yesterday titled 'The Great Cape Wine Debate'. It involved a group of UK journalists and a select band of South African winemakers to discuss several current topics, focusing in particular on the 'Burnt Rubber' issue. The debate was organized by South African specialist Richard Kelley MW (of importer Richards Walford), and he gathered a stellar line-up of winemakers:

  • Marc Kent (Boekenhoutskloof)
  • Roelf & Michelle du Preez (Bon Cap)
  • Gottfried Mocke (Cape Chamonix)
  • Bruce Jack (Constellation)
  • Chris Williams (Meerlust/The Foundry)
  • Niels Verburg (Luddite)
  • Carl van der Merwe (Quoin Rock)
  • Eben Sadie (Sadie Family Wines)
  • Callie Louw (TMV)
  • Mike Ratcliffe (Warwick and Vilafonte)

So what is the 'Burnt Rubber' issue? In brief, it's the off flavour/aroma that many people have been noticing in South African red wines. Critics, largely in the UK, have been pointing out that too many South African reds show a rather off-putting burnt rubber character that immediately marks them as South African. In response, Jo Mason of Wines of South Africa got together a group of these critical journalists and presented them with a number of South African reds (as well as a few ringers) blind. They reached more-or-less a consensus on which reds showed the burnt rubber character, and these were sent to wine science researchers in South Africa for analysis to see if any offending characters could be identified.

The 20-minute video covers the discussion between the journalists and winemakers. It's evidently a sensitive topic- and a controversial one. It should be pointed out that this group represents some of South Africa's top winemaking talent, and their wines (which we tasted) don't show any hints of burnt rubber. As such, it's a little unfair to be putting them under the spotlight like this.

You can read more about this issue in the following pieces:

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At 8:56 AM, Anonymous Kieth Prothero said...

Thanks for posting the video Jamie. I was invited to this but could not make it so I am pleased to learn that the wine produced by the winemakers present did not show "burnt rubber".
It is obviously a problem and it is pleasing that WOSA and others are taking steps to identify the cause and try to rectify.
Of course many in SA and elsewhere actually like this characteristic!!

At 8:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found Boekenhoutskloof (sic?) wines did have this characteristic (which I also quite like) when I tried some recently.

At 5:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A couple of points,

1- If it was a volume issue (as Eben Sadie suggested), then why don't Yellowtail, Jacobs Creek, Gallo and the like exhibit this character?

2- There is still an air of denial about this...you could feel the indignation.

3- It is virus related.

At 12:05 AM, Anonymous Catherine Monahan said...

Would love to know the results! I call it the "wild bushy character" - it's tragic at times...!

At 1:12 PM, OpenID hipsomhap said...

As a non-English writing wine critic I would like to correct what seems to be a general misunderstanding namely that UK writers have a particular sensibility towards the unfortunate off-taste. Or rather, here repeated by Jamie, that UK writers have been in the forefront of addressing the problem.

For obvious reasons (language, market position etc.) that's the way the discussion is perceived in the English-speaking media, which, apparently, is what is needed to finally get the message across to the SA wine industry.

But the fact of the matter is that also Swedish, German, Dutch and, indeed, Danish wine critics have been writing about the burnt rubber issue for the better part of a decade.

All credit and support to the UK colleagues in the front line, though. Keep it up!


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