Goldilocks and the Gummi Bears

“Excuse me, but is anyone picking up caoutchouc brûlé in wine #7?” is a great line to pull out while judging the ABSA Top Ten Pinotage Competition. What, you don’t speak French? What kind of wine judge are you, if the language of Carla-Bruni Sarkozy’s adopted nation leaves you cold? The first lady of France, who headlined at a New York concert to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 91st birthday in June last year, boasts “Carla Gilberta Bruni Tedeschi” on her birth certificate. As heir to the Pirelli tyre fortune, she should know all about rubber and the burnt rubber character some UK wine journos pick up in SA reds.

Meanwhile “Tedeschi” is Italian for “Germans” and in the language of Goethe, the word for that notorious burnt rubber aroma/flavour of SA reds is “gummi” according to Champagne boffin Tom Stevenson writing on where he concludes it is “Almost always a bad mercaptan fault.”

g1 Goldilocks and the Gummi Bears

Mercaptans are chemical compounds and can be divided into good ones which provide the grapefruit/granadilla varietal character of Sauvignon Blanc, the blackcurrants in Cabernet Sauvignon and the roasted coffee aromas in a popular style of Pinotage. Foul ones are to be found in raw onions, halitosis and the Riedels of UK journos. Often the transition from good to bad is one of degree: pump up the coffee/mocha note and its caoutchouc brûlé time.

In the world of gourmet sweets, gummi is a character to be prized as Hans Riegel discovered when he invented Gummi Bears back in 1922, an episode curiously ignored by Christopher Isherwood and his Cabaret exposé of the worst excesses of the Weimar Republic. Gummi Bears are made by the Haribo company who today face stiff competition from Trolli and their Gummi Worms.

Gummi Bears come in a rainbow of flavours that can easily be matched to an appropriate wine styles: raspberry (Pinot Noir like the terrific Two Oceans 2008, R28), orange (Marius Malan’s botrytis Chardonnay 2007 from Slaley, a Ponzi steal at R50), strawberry (Boschendal’s Non Vintage Le Grand Pavillon Brut Rosé, R92), pineapple (Beaumont’s excellent Hope Marguerite Chenin Blanc 2009, R50) and lime (DP Burger’s magisterial Glenwood Sémillon 2007, R160).

Gummi is also popular in Australia, leading wine exporter to the UK. In 2008 “I am your gummy bear (the gummy bear song)” charted at number 12 in the Australian Singles Chart. The music video features a bear in yellow underpants and sneakers break-dancing to the lyrics “Oh I’m a yummy, tummy, funny, lucky gummi bear” although disturbingly, someone seems to have bitten off part of his upper left ear. Perhaps it was a wine writer.

Are Gummi Bears potential tasting notes for generations brought up on these fruity confections? Having left most childish things behind them (except a scruffy Steiff Teddy Bear, now worth millions) could European consumers be coaxed into buying SA wine through an award of bottle sticker Gummi Bears describing the flavor of the contents? The flagship Vergelegen white of Teddy Bearesque winemaker André van Rensburg would rate one yellow an orange and two greens, sugar free, naturally.