21 January 2011 by Robyn Campbell

SA’s noble savages

Previously (and I mean decades ago), local winemakers used to go to great lengths to produce typical Sauvignon blanc wines.

To extract the maximum asparagus, and green pepper aromas - the typical vegetative, or ‘green’, nuances that can be ascribed to the presence of methoxypyrazines (try saying that after a few glasses) chemical components inherent in the cultivar, a strict style of winemaking was adhered to.

Longer grape ripening, increased exposure to sunlight, and slightly warmer conditions were anathema. The result was savage Sauvignon - the kind that puckered your mouth as its eye-watering acidity neutralised your palate.

Happily, South Africa’s days of Sauvignon-blanc-by-numbers seem to be over, and winemakers are well on their way to taming the sauvignon, as a recent tasting of 10 top Sauvignon blancs revealed.

Here are my 3 wine picks from this bunch of noble savages, that included wines from Nitida, Darling Cellars, Sauvignon.com (from Durbanville), Cederberg, De Grendel, Anura and First Sighting (Strandveld) estates.

West Coast wine estate Groote Post’s Reserve 2009 showed typical green pepper and asparagus on the nose, bold fruit balanced by racy acid, and the minerality typical of the Darling region.  Drink now, or keep for 2 years. Retails for around R100.00

Graham Beck’s Pheasants’ Run 2010 vintage is superb. Produced from dryland vines and hand-selected grapes from the Beck’s cool-climate vineyards, it’s an astonishing quality wine for the price. Crisp (asparagus and snap peas), with intense fruit (gooseberry and passion fruit), spice, and flinty elegance…need I say more? Drink now, or keep for 2 years. Retails for around R150.00

Strandveld Vineyard’s delicious, complex, and atypical Sauvignon blanc 2010 was, for me, the most terroir-expressive of the wines tasted, and proved again the growing regard in which these Agulhas plain vineyards are held.

Elim’s very cool climate dictates that grapes ripen slowly, and are picked later to ensure phenolic ripeness. The wine opens with white asparagus, nettle, and dusty, herby hints of the region’s fynbos, layered with gentle fruit, and acid that produces a creamy, lingering finish. Yum! Drink now, or cellar for up to 3 years. Retails for around R100.00.

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