Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc makes the most popular single varietal whites in SA.  It is a chameleon cultivar that ranges from acid fresh in Lambert’s Bay to gentle oak moss complexity in Constantia, ethereal lychee in the Klein Karoo and flinty finesse in Elgin and the Hemel en Aarde Valley.

We tasted 186 dry Sauvignons blind and several noble late harvest examples, like the excellent Highland’s Road 2011 from Elgin.  There were also a couple of straw wines.  All of them had a definite geographical coatrack on which to hang their hats.  Not that terroir by truck makes inferior wines.  On the contrary, as we found out at a blind tasting of 18 Sauvignon Blancs at Vrede en Lust in Franschhoek.

Our favourite in the comprehensive line-up compiled by Dana Buys, was the De Morgenzon DMZ 2012, made from grapes sourced from four different terroirs.  As winemaker Carl van der Merwe reports, the fruit comes from a particularly cool and windy pocket in Elgin, a vineyard in Durbanville, Faure and the Stellenboschkloof (the De Morgenzon estate).

As far as making the wine goes, Carl’s modus operandi was high turbidity juice, careful but not overly reductive handling, cool inoculated ferments in stainless, regular fermentation lees suspension for 4 months post ferment. 5% was naturally fermented in barrel and back blended for weight.  The result is spectacular and the bouquet elicited an obvious and public reaction from the tasters.

That said, an unexpected statistic was reported by wine marketer par excellence Colyn Truter, on his Leg of Wine blog.  Of the 42 gold medal and trophy winners at this year’s Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show, fully three quarters (31 wines) were origin specific wines, just like the 2000+ we tasted blind for this guide.

For inclusion, a wine has to be voted “in” by both of us.  Something that happened 107 times in the case of Sauvignon Blanc.  So the cultivar achieved a hit rate of 58%.  But as expected, there are huge terroir related differences.  In Constantia, we included all nine of the wines tasted for a hit rate of 100% while in Tulbagh the hit rate was 25% with the single wine included, the incredible Lemberg Surin 2011.

A rating shared with the Sir Lambert 2012 from Lambert’s Bay and the Klein Constantia Perdeblokke 2010 from Constantia.

The concept of a hit rate is an interesting one for consumers faced with a selection of un-tasted Sauvignons on a restaurant wine list, for example.  Constantia is a sure thing while Stellenbosch, with 20 wines included out of 28 tasted, is also a good bet with a hit rate of 71%.

Substantial flavour profile and style differences demonstrated by Sauvignon are tailor-made for competitions seeking to compile a Top Ten.  But obviously care should be taken that those pungent dusty green peppers of Darling and Durbanville (for example) do not overshadow the more subtle oak moss/mineral wines from Constantia – something that clearly did not happen at the FNB Top Ten Sauvignon Blanc Competition this year, with the victor’s laurels shared between Cape Agulhas, Breedekloof, Cederberg, Darling, Durbanville, Elgin, Langeberg-Garcia and Stellenbosch.

Price and availability are also important and should also be factors in compiling a consumer Top Ten.  Marmalade Cat in Darling lists Ormonde Ondine 2010 for a mere R60 (in a restaurant) which makes it a winner in my book, especially when paired with a gluten-free pizza (half anchovies, half salmon) on a rainy Friday night.

Tasting Notes

Top Ten Terroir Sauvignon Blancs

1.) The Berrio, 2011

Trail dust and greenpeppers on the nose, lemon and lime pith and peel on the palate.  Delicious.  A southern benchmark.

2. ) Chamonix Reserve, 2010, Franschhoek

Toasty oak, rich nose with floral buds, apricots on palate. R145 a bottle.

3.) Jordan “The Outlier”, 2009, Stellenbosch

Rich and ripe, grassy floral, dusty dried apricots and figs. R99 a bottle.

4.) Klein Constantia Perdeblokke, 2010, Constantia

Floral, fine, limes and quince marmalade, late harvest aromas, soft palate, icy fresh.

5.) Merwida, 2012, Breedekloof

Tropical fruit plus asparagus and green peas, sweat, tangy and persistent. R38 a bottle.

6.) Oak Valley, 2011, Elgin

Grassy citrus with a lingering finish and a creamy palate. A Sauvignon Blanc for Catherine Deneuve. R90 a bottle.

7.) Ormonde Ondine, 2010, Darling

Asparagus, tinned peas, citrus pulp and zest, creamy mouth feel, tangy, good food wine. R55 a bottle.

8.) Sir Lambert, 2012, Namaqualand

Tangy ruby grapefruit with a finely judged balance between sweet and sour and huge length. R65 a bottle.

9.) Spioenkop “1900”, 2011, Elgin

Fresh floral nose and spicy broad palate starring lemon pith and limes. Lovely and long. R62 a bottle.

10.) Webersburg, 2011, Stellenbosch

Toasty floral, creamy, complex, long, a world class wine. R85 a bottle.