The situation of South African Sauvignon Blanc reminds me of one of the great verbal curve-balls thrown by American baseball coach Yogi Berra. When asked if he wants to have dinner at a particular New York restaurant, Yogi answered: “No-one goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
For this is precisely the case with local Sauvignon Blanc. By far South Africa’s most popular varietal wine among consumers and our leading export cultivar to boot, Sauvignon Blanc gets scant media and commentary air-time compared to other wines and varieties. The supposed mind-set being that if everyone likes it, Sauvignon Blanc can’t really be that cerebrally good, nor worthy of media analysis and intellectual vinous opining.
Although the way the wine consumer is increasingly buying and drinking the wine, the lack of air-time given to Sauvignon Blanc deserves that incisive South African retort of: “Check the worry in my eyes.”
The recent FNB Sauvignon Blanc Top10 Competition, run in association with the Sauvignon Blanc Interest Group, gave one an opportunity to witness the status of local Sauvignon, and as far as consistency goes, only Chardonnay can produce a line-up of such superb white wines.
Freshness. Zest. Acidity balanced by fruit and floral muscularity. Assertive, yet friendly palate weight. Striking individuality in each wine, yet a respect to those inclusive Sauvignon Blanc values as preached successfully that helped make it such a knock-out wine.
Also, proof that Sauvignon Blanc has the ability to express terroir through its ability to, chameleon-like, adapt to various sites. Stellenbosch and Walker Bay. Elgin and Durbanville. Even in the Breedekloof.
Forced to pick-out my three favourites from this year’s Top 10, I’ll start with the Jordan Outlier 2015, the estate’s premium Sauvignon Blanc offering. This is a startling example of the great wine wooded Sauvignon Blanc can be, especially the ability the variety has to elevate nuanced flavours and gain complexity through exposure to new and 2nd fill oak barrels.
The Outlier smells of dried flowers and Aperol spilt on fresh linen, before the first sip attacks the palate with the piercing gentleness of a Steely Dan saxophone intro on the Gaucho album. I taste wet, rained-upon ripe gooseberry with the verve-like, spine-tingling flavour of pickled mango. On the mid-palate the wine broadens as an incoming spring-tide, bearing tidings of caramelised kelp, the liquid in the shells of baby clams and a splash of Key lime juice.
Wooded it may be, but there is not a hint of smoke, char or butter. Stones, crushed shells and white pear further the experienced of good, clean fun and enormous style and sophistication.
Next up, for moi, I’d pick the Almenkerk 2015 from Elgin. Shown next to Jordan’s The Outlier, these wines portray little similarity, yet are both decidedly Sauvignon Blanc in their life-affirming, pyrazine-drive heart-beats.
Almenkerk, from Elgin fruit, tastes the meadow saffron WB Yates writes of. Green and cool with a Gallic muscularity, this is Sauvignon Blanc strumming the more expected New World tunes of white asparagus ripped from the sandy soils of summer, long grass ripped from the banks of clear chalk streams in Hampshire and partially cooked green pepper picked out of a delicately spiced Paella pan.
The wine lies deliciously in the mouth, coaxing the palate with an invigorating surge of rumbling juiciness.
The Breedekloof has shown itself to be a stunning region for Sauvignon Blanc, with Du Toitskloof becoming one of South Africa’s most popular consumer brands. On the other side of Rawsonville the Merwida Winery has also been making crisp, clear and confident Sauvignon Blancs and this year the Merwida Sauvignon Blanc 2016 deservedly made the FNB Top 10.
The feet of summer jive to this wine. Bone-dry and crunchy, the wine shows fruits from warmer weather, places where the living is easy and the palms sway rhythmically to the gentle breezes from the tropics. Custard apple and papaya jump from the glass, while a saline line ensures the wine maintains a classic Sauvignon focus.
What I liked most about this wine is the way all the components are threaded together. No loose ends as the green leafiness of new seasonal life gives way to fruit and vivid colours, acids in tune with sugar and things sweeter.
I’m sure glad to be part of the in-crowd.
· Lafras Huguenet