Crisp refreshing Sauvignon Blanc is a wine akin to summer days in South Africa. It puts a smile on your lips when you are sitting poolside with the sunshine shimmering on your skin. It is one of our most widely planted grapes and unlike another of the top ranked Colombard, it sells like water in restaurants and retail. Its the marguaritta pizza, the Joey from friends, the Labrador puppy. As Oz Clarke once said “its whole purpose is to be refreshing and pleasurable”.
But here is my unpopular opinion; I don’t like Sauvignon Blanc. Because of it’s mainstream popularity and global success; it is often the cash cow of the estate; made with little consideration. Grapes are picked and pressed. The skins and juice are then separated quicker than a one night stand. The juiced is racked, filtered, sent to ferment in tank and voila the wine is in bottle and on the supermarket shelf before you can say “Rennies please”
Earlier this month I hosted a wine tasting with some of my favourite characters from the industry to unpack this varietal. The theme was Interesting slash Geeky Sauvignon Blancs. As a non Sauvy fan myself I was looking for a wine that didn’t reek of cat pee or adolescent armpits. I also don’t want a tropical fruit salad… nor to feel like a cow mulching on grass. 2020 has been hailed the year of Sauvignon Blanc. Yes Sauvignon Blanc has always been popular, but not necessary cool (and I’m not talking about a couple of blocks of ice cool). This year Sauvignon Blanc is breaking away from mainstream and becoming hip. And some of our esteemed winemakers are adding a zest of life into this otherwise conventional grape and disrupting its image.
Could a finer understanding of this mundane varietal, thoughtful winemaking and better site selection add a bit of excitement and actually make me enjoy Sauvignon Blanc?
In the twelve wines we tasted blind, we had some aged, some foreign, some traditional examples, but the ones that stood out where coincidentally made by some of my favourite winemakers. All had been aged in oak, some on the lees, some with skin contact. They gave this varietal horns but kept it’s old world elegance.
Highlights as follows;
Trizanne Signature Wines, Sondagkloof White 2018
Trizanne said she had been making Sauvignon Blanc in the same way for the past twenty years and this vineyard close to Stanford inspired her to change it up and make it in the same way she makes her Syrah. This means warm skin fermentation with daily punch downs, followed by barrel maturation in parts new French 500L for 16 months. The result is an outstanding expression of this varietal; complex and wonderfully unusual. On first pour an oyster shell minerality shines through. This dissipates as it opens up and subtle peach notes, crunchy white pear and jasmine aromatics take centre stage with an underpinning savoury line of chicken consommé and dried mushrooms. It is a wine of paradox; a gentle grip, a refined elegance, an appealing breadth with meticulous detail and a delicate acidity.
Restless River Wanderlust 2018
The Restless River ‘Wanderlust’ label adjourns a different wine each year; a once off. It’s an experimental label where, rebel of the vine; Craig plays around. This vintage he decided to have fun with Sauvignon Blanc, and try and make one he actually likes!
The grapes were hand-picked and carefully placed, whole cluster, into small stainless steel tanks. The tanks were sealed and filled with carbon dioxide, allowing an oxygen free carbonic maceration to occur. Ok, just wait! Carbonic macerated WHITE grapes, have you ever? No neither had Craig, but that didn’t stop him. He was curious, so he just did it, and why not? He was hoping maybe the Sauvignon Blanc would get that ‘carbonic lift.’ The tanks were opened after five weeks and surprisingly, the berries were still green and completely in tact. The whole clusters were then foot stomped to free the juice and allow a natural fermentation to begin. After three days of skin contact fermentation, the grapes were pressed in our old basket press. The juice was put in to old French barriques where fermentation was completed. The wine remained in barrels, sur lie and undisturbed for 16months. It was then racked from barrel and
bottled without fining or filtration. In reflection Craig is unsure if the carbonic had any influence on the final wine. He cites that the deeper honey colour, phenomenal texture and unique mouth feel was from the skin contact and extended oaking regime. On the nose it is shy but appealing; lime, peach and green tea. The palate is full of personality; broad and generous. It is ingenious.
Storm Wild Air 2018
From 20 year old low vigour vines in Hemel-en-Aarde. Made with a ‘hands off” approach the juice is fermented in old barrels and left on lees for six months with a portion going through malolactic fermentation. On first taste it is the elegance and restraint that brings contemplation. A beautifully fine matière with a clean, vibrant acidity which effortlessly cuts through a comforting richness. A dusty, powdered mineral nose with grapefruit, elderflower, under ripe mango and quince providing the skeleton. “A new world answer to Sancerre” according to Decanter.
Winter Hoek 2018 by Donovan Rall
Situated in Ceres the vines struggle in a harsh climate and rocky terrain. Traditional and basic winemaking techniques are used. After whole bunch fermentation the juice is racked into second and third fill barrels and left on the lees for ten months. Mouthwatering fresh green melon and white peach. A chalky, struck match mineral palate and lime skin acidity. Beautiful length and depth. Extraordinarily delicious.
So all hope has been restored. I spent a night sipping on Sauvignon Blanc and I didn’t have to endure the stretch of a sweaty armpit nor did I have to medicate myself with anti acid during the course of the evening. The rules are simple; look for Sauvignon Blancs made by the hipper on trend winemakers whose other wines you adore, look for maturation in oak, on lees and remember the vintage is not its sell by date.