A fine warm-to-hot Boland day, a light and airy space, a collection of pleasant South African wine people. Add a bit of a morning-after thirst raging in a mouth drier than the adjectives in nun’s love-letter. And this was a good day to drink white wine, which is exactly what I did with 20 Sauvignon Blancs at Friday’s FNB Sauvignon Blanc Top 10.
Thing is with Sauvignon Blanc as a wine, for me it is only meant to go one-way and that is down gullet. The venue at Val de Vie, overlooking the polo-fields, was filled with 20 stalls where the FNB Sauvignon Blanc Top 10 finalists were pouring their wares for a bit of pre-awards analysis and introspection.
Not on my watch. The wines were clear, brisk, fresh and fine that by the time I hit my 8th stall, Adam Mason’s Mulderbosch, I had a pleasant Sauvignon Blanc buzz going with not even an attempt to sniff, sip, spit and dissect.
You don’t need to be sober to realise why Sauvignon Blanc is South Africa’s number one selling varietal wine. It is, simply, a variety the consumer understands. One dimensional may sound a bit limiting, but then Gauguin’s Tahiti painting phase can also be described as one dimensional, namely island tits and tropical guava.
It is the identifiable features shared by all South African Sauvignon Blancs that make it so successful as a category. Put a R40 co-op Sauvignon Blanc and a R350 single-vineyard, low-yield cool-climate number picked by lentil-munching and levitating Tibetans on a table, and ask a regular Sauvignon-lover to identify the grape variety, blind. This will be no problem. Sure, the structure, complexity and depth will vary, but that lip-smacking tarty-freshness and tuning-fork precision of balance between fruit and acid is evident in both wines from various spectrums.
And is comprehension and accessibility not what the wine world wants consumers to experience? The average punter wants a wine that is going to give him or her what they expect, and in Sauvignon Blanc they know what is coming. Unlike Chenin Blanc or Chardonnay.
It was great fun slurping my way through most of these 20 wines. Despite the similarities the grape brings, there was enough diversity to keep the interest going, as well as the belief that South Africa’s wine-makers have pretty much got the number on this variety.
The Top 10 Sauvignon Blancs were announced, and here it was great to see Merwida 2015 flying the flag for the Breedekloof Wine Valley. Despite the clichés of cool climate and sea air being required to make passable Sauvignon Blanc, Breedekloof and Robertson have shown that their respective soils and climate are no hindrance to good fruit. The Merwida has a lovely tropical depth of flavour, not unlike one of Gauguin’s guavas, and the precise mouthfeel finished with a flourish of salt and citrus.
Kleine Zalze Family Reserve Sur Lie 2015 is a compact, ambitious wine from Darling, Stellenbosch and Durbanville and verged towards a honeyed, confectionary style whilst maintaining a fresh zing and all-round brightness. I drank it throughout the lunch, and made it a future go-to wine.
As can be expected Jordan 2014 was nothing sort of brilliant in that easy “Jordan can Do” sort of why. A lovely restrained, un-showy wine it shows cool wet grapes, green fig and touch of drying river pebbles.
Mooiplaas Sauvignon Blanc 2015 possibly showed the most individualist traits in the Top 10 with a heady hit of fynbos and sun-dried herbs. Lemon-peel and fennel are also present in a wine of real character and wildness.
The remaining Top 10 were: Nederburg 11 Centuries 2014, Overhex Survivor 2015, Spier 21 Gables 2015, Uva Mira Sing-A-Wing 2015, Tokara Reserve Collection Elgin 2015 and Cederberg 2015.
The whole thing turned into a bit of jol, chatting to Wayne Gabb from Lomond and son Tim about donkeys in the Karoo, Winnie Bowman on the greatness of Orange River Cellar’s sherries, Thys Louw about galjoen fishing and Lieza van der Merwe from Merwida on the use of the English language in the town of Rawsonville.
Unfortunately the revelry did not allow me to take-up Ryk Neethling’s challenge to a chakka of polo at the Val de Vie Polo Club. I was keen, but the horse had bolted.