La Dolce Vita: A wine for coffee lovers

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The bright red label on a promotional card stood out on our pub table. We had just sat at our table in a busy downtown Calgary Irish pub, having abandoned a group of wedding rehearsal participants, some of whom were proposing to walk to Chinatown and look for a restaurant that could accommodate as many as 20 people. On a Friday night? Count me out.

Simplicity was the key. “Café” dominated the label, its white letters standing out on the red background. In smaller letters below was the word “Culture”. Beneath that, small white letters on a black background indicated the bottle’s content was Pinotage, a wine typically associated with South Africa.

It was the description of the wine as much as the label that caught my eye, though. It promised that the wine had huge espresso and chocolate flavours. Hmmm. A nice Irish stew wrapped in a potato pancake would surely benefit from such a pairing, I was convinced.

We placed our order and soon the server made her way through the packed room to deliver our twist-top bottle. This wine is just flying out of here, she said, adding that she was surprised there was any left. At $33 a bottle it was a pretty reasonable buy for a city pub.

My eyebrows must have shot up when I took the first sip. It was indeed bursting with the taste and aroma of coffee and chocolate. Smooth and full-bodied, it proved to be a delicious wine that stood out quite nicely on its own. And, as expected, it was delicious with my meal.

The back of the label says, “The Cafe Culture is home to free spirits and trendsetters. Their wine is different, a unique Pinotage with a distinct coffee character. Deliciously ripe pinotage grapes have been persuaded to show an often hidden mocha flavour — nothing is added and nothing is taken away. They enjoy it on its own while chatting and debating into the night, or with whatever food they choose, even dessert! And they know it’s best while still young. Become a member — you won’t go back.”

As we walked back to our hotel room after dinner it was clear I had a new mission—seek out a wine store where Café Culture was available (the server couldn’t help us with that question).

The next day my visit to a couple of downtown shops was in vain. On Sunday, though, we headed to the south of the city, making our first stop at Willow Park Wines and Spirits. One of Canada’s largest retailers, WPWS is always one of our stops when we are in Calgary. In fact, on our way in to town a few days earlier we dropped in to pick up a bottle of Prosecco, a request from the young woman who would become our daughter-in-law on this memorable trip.

When we entered the store I headed straight for the South Africa wine section and there was the label I was looking for. Fourteen bottles sat on the shelf. At only $12.99 apiece I decided to buy a dozen and quickly laid them into a cart. Then Angela called me over to a display a few metres away. Stacks of cases of Café Culture stood tall, and a sign indicated that customers purchasing a full case would get a free set of sushi bowls and accessories. I put the bottles back on the shelf and placed a sealed case into my cart.

Café Culture is distinctively different from any other Pinotage I’ve tasted. A more typical version is earthy, even smoky, with hints of tropical fruit. The grape is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault varieties. Some Pinotages will have just a tad of acetone on the nose.

I enjoyed reading one on-line reviewers comments: “This wine is completely different. I couldn’t believe that it had a mocha flavour! Seriously it’s got a mocha taste that is hard to describe in a wine. It’s just so good and lends itself to becoming a fully fledged alcoholic because you replace your morning coffee with Cafe Culture wine because it’s so good!”

When I was telling others about this discovery on the weekend, I jokingly referred to its versatility, saying that it could be a breakfast wine or a nightcap.

Produced by the huge KVW maker in South Africa, Café Culture is a very nice discovery this early in the year, one that bodes well for the rest of 2012.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.