SOUTH African wildlife and wine both have an iconic Big Five, but that's where any similarity ends. While the difference between lion and leopard is pretty obvious, the distinction between Pinot Noir and Pinotage is generally a mystery to the uninitiated.
PE wine doyenne Olga Hafner can unravel that mystery in an instant, tell you the history of South Africa's home-grown Pinotage grape, and much more. Her knowledge and love of the product she's lived and breathed for many years ensure that her Meridian Wines team are equally clued-up.
Weekend Post's Louise Liebenberg, husband Salvelio Meyer and I recently joined some new members of the team for a wine training session with Olga, improving our wine know-how and sampling some fine wines in the process.
Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot make up wine's Big Five, and in South Africa we add Chenin Blanc and Pinotage to make a truly Magnificent Seven. So, how to tell your Chardonnay from your Chenin?
Both white varietals (a type of grape, in other words), both can be wooded or unwooded, and are similar in colour – the wooded generally more golden than the paler unwooded. Wooded quite simply means the wine has spent time maturing in a wooden barrel, giving it more depth and complexity, adding aromas and flavours like vanilla, spices, toast and nuts.
Buttered toast, apples, limes or pineapple are likely to greet you in a Chardonnay, while Chenin will offer more of a fruit salad with melons, guava and tropical fruit. The third white of the Magnificent Seven, Sauvignon Blanc, is more likely to feature asparagus, grass, gooseberries or figs.
Fruit seems a pretty obvious thing to find in wine, but when it comes to the red family, the descriptions can become quite bizarre – from mint and cigars in Cabernet Sauvignon, to bananas (and even, some say, burning rubber) in Pinotage.
In Merlot, look for plums, berries and chocolate, with a smooth, velvety feel to the wine, while hints of pepper, cloves and smokiness will usually mean you've got a Shiraz in your glass.
These are all single cultivar wines rather than blends of different grapes, meaning they've got at least 85% of one grape varietal in the bottle.
As for the difference between Pinot Noir and Pinotage, both are red grapes, with Pinotage being a proudly South African 'invention', a hybrid of Pinot Noir and Hermitage vines – so it is wine from a single grape. Happy tasting!
For more on the wine training session visit the Global Table blog at theglobaltable. wordpress.com