Fons'll fix it

Pinotage got off to a Usain Bolt start to 2013 in an unlikely place – the columns of the Wall Street Journal – capitalism’s in-house newsletter owned by Australian media billionaire Rupert Murdoch. Long-time Pinotage-hater Lettie Teague penned an unexpected column in January headed “Does Much-Unloved Pinotage Deserve Another Look?” before answering her rhetorical question in the affirmative.

That Lettie and Pinotage do not sit at the same table is confirmed by her website which still boasts “she loves most wines of the world except Pinotage.  She has never had a good Pinotage” even after her St. Paul on the road to Damascus moment in the WSJ.

For among anoraks, hating Pinotage is something of an in-joke as the comments of ridiculous surfing blogger Jade Goodie, confirm.

“Pinotage is vile. In fact, I’ve thought of both a new competition, and also a new way to assess wine show judges based on this variety.  The new competition is for the World’s Least Vile Pinotage, and perhaps I should brand this with my name to make it an excercise [sic] in ugly self-promotion (as some other, nameless, writers do with top 100s and the like).  And the new way to assess wine show judges is to give them a glass of Pinotage.  If they say it’s OK, they’re sacked.  If they dislike it, they are in. If they take a sip, cuss loudly and expel the contents from their mouths rapidly, then they are senior judges.”  That Jade is a judge on the Top 100 SA Wines competition makes his comments on Top 100s especially spicy.

But if it was not the Syrian air force that stopped Lettie, what caused her to reflect “were my feelings about Pinotage really fair—or, for that matter, accurate? After all, it had been quite a few years since I tasted much Pinotage; perhaps there had been some changes in winemaking or viticulture. Perhaps there were even some overlooked gems?”

Step forward that dapper flying Dutchman Fons Aaldering, a James Bond of the barrel, whose elegant fingerprints are all over this one.  The dead giveaway is the first sentence of the WSJ assessment of the two dozen wines Lettie sourced in New York, for unlike many other wine scribes, Lettie buys (most of) her own samples.   “The wines I admired ranged from a polished Pinot Noir-style Pinotage from Aaldering…”

Now hang on a seccie, how did Aaldering become the primum inter pares Pinotage?  Was it because of the lexicographic advantage a double “A” brings?  Or the fact that Aaldering is a new brand which was only launched in May 2010 at La Colombe in those heady days when the restaurant was rated 12th in the whole world in the San Pellegrino list?  To mention Aaldering but not Kanonkop or Lanzerac (where it all started) confirms a marketing maestro was hard at work behind the scenes.  As does the inclusion of a wine from the House of Mandela in Lettie’s list.

IMG 45602 615x461 Fons'll fix it

Fons launched his 2007 vintage Pinotage alongside a crisp roasted confit of organic duck leg, foie gras and pickled ginger butter with a hoisin dressing in a private dining room at La Colombe.  Luke Dale Roberts was not in the kitchen that day and the foie gras was present in homeopathic quantities.  Mortified, Fons invited me to the Michelin three star table of Jonnie Boer (above), to taste what fine dining was all about – an invitation it took me two years to take up, but an indication of the style of a man who doesn’t accept disappointment.

Over dinner with Fons at De Librije in Zwolle last year, I proposed the outrageous conspiracy theory that Lettie was part of a WSJ campaign to rubbish Africa in the run up to the American elections to advance the cause of Mitt over Barak who is indelibly tied to the continent of his father’s birth.  Fons being fons, he jumped on to his email and bombarded Lettie with requests for equal time.

Accorded an audience in November (after the elections), Fons flew to New York and took the lady not one but two Pinotages including his savoury 2012 white Pinotage.  And the rest, as they say, is history