The Top Six Sauvignon Blancs

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The Top Six Sauvignon Blancs

The quality of Sauvignon Blanc is on the up and up! The South African wine consumer’s continued love affair with Sauvignon Blanc (it is the most asked for white variety in wine shops and supermarkets) is paying dividends with all the varied styles available. 

France, it was really the genius of winemakers in New Zealand that put Sauvignon Blanc firmly on the world map – who can forget the iconic rise and rise of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc? It brought to the world a New World style of zingy freshness, pyrazine driven, green pepper and freshly mown grass character that Sauvignon Blanc lovers just could not get enough of!

Today, Sauvignon Blanc plantings make up almost 10% of the national vineyard, third after Chenin Blanc and Colombar in the whites; almost equal with Shiraz and fifth in total after Cabernet Sauvignon. Local winemakers are becoming more and more proficient in handling the variety, and it shows in this tasting.

An impressive total of 192 wine were assessed, of which 180 were unoaked and 12 oak matured. Forty-six wines were bottled under cork closure with the balance closed with screwcaps. The wines were tasted over three days and our aim was to identify and reward those wines that celebrate true Sauvignon Blanc varietal character, as well as to identify the stylistic diversity within the category. In general, the panel was pleased with the overall increase in quality of the category, with no less than 32 wines rating 4 Stars, plus one 4. Star and one 5 Star. This was followed by a further 26 wines scoring 3. Stars. On the positive side, panellist James Pietersen noted that that overall there was less overt pyrazine (methoxypyrazine) character than he expected – ‘no bothersome pyrazines’ agreed panellist Pieter de Waal, secretary of the Sauvignon Blanc Interest Group (SBIG). There was consensus that pyrazines are now better managed in the vineyard and that allows for more complexity in the wines. Another area of delight was in the texture and mouthfeel of the wines – gone (mostly!) were the lean, mean and very green wines (at the top end), replaced by gorgeous palate weight and a richness, due to extended lees contact and barrel fermentation and ageing. Pieter also mentioned that the role of yeast selection should be acknowledged, especially in the stylistic decisions. James added that the small portion of Semillon has taken Sauvignon Blanc to another level by adding complexity and well-rounded mouthfeel. But he cautions against the overuse of Semillon: ‘Sauvignon Blanc celebrates clarity and fragrance – when the wines feature too much thatch and oil, one is moving towards white blend territory…’ Elsie Pells remarked that, aside from the more serious big hitters, there were many fruity and floral wines for easy drinking. Elsie also noted that it was clear that the best and purest fruit was used in the oaked examples. Elzette du Preez, winemaker at De Grendel in Durbanville, was pleased that so many stylistic differences were represented in the line-up – a pleasure and privilege to taste.

So how were the various styles categorised? As summed up by Pieter de Waal: green and herbaceous; tropical, floral and yellow stone fruit; austere, flinty and mineral; blackcurrent and elderberry; spicy and barrel fermented and/or matured. Not only were the styles diverse, so were the areas of origin of the top wines: two of the Top Six wines were from Durbanville, two from Stellenbosch and one each from the Elgin and Olifantsriver areas.

This tasting warmed the hearts of the panel and restored faith in South African Sauvignon Blanc, with very high quality at the top end, as well as myriad, good-quality, well-balanced wines that are ageworthy. The diversity of styles, as well as production areas, show that the variety is taken seriously and all attempts are made to improve balance, mouthfeel and drinking pleasure. In this line-up, consumers will find a wine for each taste, budget and occasion, from fruity and easy-drinking styles, to serious food wines and those that are able to be cellared for future enjoyment. Sauvignon Blanc is back!

A SUMMARY OF FINDINGS

While the overall comments were positive and it was felt that Sauvignon Blanc has come a long way to improved quality, negative points included over-reductively handled wines, high perceived sulphur levels and more volatility where ripeness was pushed. In addition, in some of the wooded examples, the oaking regime overwhelmed the aromatic fruit expression in the wines.

It was gratifying to see that Sauvignon Blanc can indeed age – three of the Top Six wines were from the 2012 vintage and three from 2013. In the overall 4-Star group, 12 wines were from the 2011 and 2012 vintages, the rest 2013. The oldest wine in the line-up was from the 2010 vintage.

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The Top Sauvignon Blanc D’aria The Songbird Sauvignon Blanc 2013

D’Aria has a wine history dating back to 1698, with a long tradition of passionate hard work of various owners invested into the soil that today produces top-quality grapes and award-winning wines.

D’ARIA WINES HAVE SWEPT through the South African wine market like a fresh sea breeze and are known for innovative and creative wines that awaken your senses. The Muse, the symbol for D’Aria, is a youthful, free-spirited, androgynous figure wearing a flamboyant hat with feather and cape. Exuding a mystical charm, the Muse, playing a flute and followed by a bird in flight, is merrily strolling along, following its heart, just like its winemaker.

In keeping with family involvement, founder board member of Barinor, Johan von Waltsleben, is the viticulturist at D’Aria and his son, Rudi von Waltsleben, is the winemaker. Rudi started his professional life as LLB Law graduate from Stellenbosch. He soon realised that his passion was really in the outdoors: in the soil and winemaking, where he could give free rein to his creative side and his personal expression in producing wine. A winemaking qualification at Elsenburg Agricultural College followed soon after. Rudi started his winemaking career under mentorship of winemaker Nico van der Merwe, where he gained the experience to take over the winemaking reins at D’Aria in 2007.

The Songbird Sauvignon Blanc 2013 is the D’Aria flagship white wine and is a 100% Sauvignon Blanc produced from an 11-year-old single vineyard on the Tygerberg hills. The grapes were harvested by hand at first light and then cooled down to 10˚C on arrival in the cellar. Once chilled down, the berries were sorted by hand to eliminate any unwanted and sub-standard matter. Grapes were then pressed in a two-ton pneumatic press using inert gas to minimize contact with oxygen as far as possible. This is to preserve thiol precursors, responsible for the unique aromas in Sauvignon Blanc. Skin contact was then allowed on some batches for up to 12 hours.

A small percentage is barrel-fermented and is blended into the final wine to enhance mouthfeel and complexity. The final wine is green-gold in colour, concentrated, creamy and full-bodied, yet elegant with a fine nose of fynbos, blackcurrent, lime and hint of vanilla oak. Fresh and breezy with good oak integration in harmony with the aromatic fruit. This is a beautifully textured wine and will reward ageing.

The agricultural roots of D’Aria in Durbanville go back over three centuries to the early years of wheat, sheep, wine and vegetable farming in the rural hamlet of Pampoenkraal (as Durbanville was once known) after settlement of the Cape Colony by the Dutch in the 1650s. In 1836, a request by a group of local farmers was granted by the then governor of the Cape Colony, Sir Benjamin D’Urban, to rename Pampoenkraal to D’Urban in his honour. It was renamed Durbanville in 1886 to avoid confusion with Durban in KwaZulu-Natal.

The property comprises two historic farms: Doordekraal and Springfield. The land on Doordekraal was first granted in 1698 to hardy Dutchwoman Tryntjie Verwey (née Theunisse), mother of three, widowed shortly after immigrating to the Cape. Tryntjie’s farming success earned her the epithet De Boerin (The Lady Farmer). One of her daughters, Alida, subsequently married Ocker Cornelisz Olivier who farmed nearby Hoogebergsvallei (later renamed Springfield). Daughter, like mother, continued farming after being widowed at a young age.

Almost exactly three centuries later – in 1998/1999 – Barinor Holdings, a local property investment and development company (born of a humble railway workers’ benefit fund in 1886), bought the two feisty Verwey women’s farms and amalgamated them as D’Aria Vineyards.

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D’Aria The Songbird Sauvignon Blanc 2013 

***** 5 STARS

100% Sauvignon Blanc from Durbanville. The grapes are hand-picked and again hand-sorted at the cellar before fermentation. 95% of the wine is tank-fermented and left on the lees for three months, with about 5% barrel-fermented. Green-gold in colour, concentrated, creamy and full-bodied, yet elegant with a fine nose of fynbos, blackcurrent, lime and hint of vanilla oak. Fresh and breezy with good oak integration in harmony with the aromatic fruit. This is a beautifully textured wine and will reward ageing.

Price R110

 

Contact Tel +27 (0)21 801 6772, www.dariawinery.co.za 

The company recognises and honours the Verwey women’s heritage of hard work and farming passion. The sense of family and local community continues to pervade the company’s business philosophy: it is committed to its public shareholders and equal black economic empowerment (BEE) partners in D’Aria, the Durbanville Workers’ Association.

D`Aria Winery is situated about 10km from the Atlantic Ocean. The terroir makes it ideal to produce top-quality, premium cool-climate wines, in particular Sauvignon Blanc. At present, 60 hectares are planted to grapes with red varieties taking up 80% of the area, and white varieties the remaining 20%. The cellar was built in 2007 and put into full production with the 2008 vintage. The architecture of the building is a study in simple sophistication: the clean lines and geometric shapes of squares and arches on the exterior echo the historic Cape Dutch architectural style. The cellar is equipped to handle 400 tons of grapes and the interior provides a spacious yet compact ultra-modern environment for hands-on winemaking. During the short time since production started in 2008, D’Aria has grown to a well-known brand among the top wine producers in South Africa. In the past five years, the accolades have been pouring in, from international magazine competitions to White Wine Producer and White Winemaker of the Year awards. The Songbird Sauvignon Blanc is no stranger to fame and has had many awards heaped upon it – previously receiving 5-Star ratings in the now defunct Wine magazine and 4½-Star ratings in Platter’s Wine Guide. The wine has also won awards such as a Double Gold at Veritas, Bronze at the International Decanter Show and two consecutive Diamond Awards at the Winemakers Choice Awards.

 

Nearby, restaurant Poplars adds a finishing touch to the tasting experience to be found in a valley such as Durbanville. Poplars has won several awards, including Diners Club, and there is also a function venue for events and weddings. Along with the guest cottages, whatever happens at D’Aria, it promises to be intriguing.

The Rest of the Best

The Sauvignon Blanc Tasting Panel: Winnie Bowman CWM (Chair), wine taster and writer; Pieter de Waal, winemaker, Hermit on the Hill Wines; James Pietersen, sommelier, Balthazar’s and Balducci’s; Elzette du Preez, winemaker, De Grendel; Elsie Pells CWM, international buyer for House of Prague Wines. Associate tasters: Karen Glanfield, Emma Moffat. Auditor: Ashley Elizabeth White.

 

Paul Cluver Sauvignon Blanc 2012 

**** 4. STARS

R70

Tel +27 (0)21 844 0605, www.cluver.com

 

PANEL COMMENT

Pure class! Hand-picked and sorted grapes from nine to 20-year-old vineyards and made in a more reductive style with blackcurrant, fennel, wet pebbles, fynbos and faint wafts of vanilla on the nose. Fine texture, a smooth and luscious mouthfeel from the five months lees contact and the 8% old barrel-fermented Semillon. Good balance and excellent depth of flavour bode well for future enjoyment.

This Elgin Valley farm has been in the Cluver family since 1896. Paul Cluver’s psychiatrist father inherited it from his – Paul Cluver III, that is – great-great grandfather, but it was Cluver’s mother who moved to the farm in the 1950s and established apple and pear farming.


The wine business started when Paul Cluver (IV) hung up his scrubs as Cape Town-based neurosurgeon and moved to the farm. After an initial partnership with Nederburg, Paul Cluver Wines was born. Today, many years on, family-run Paul Cluver Wines is recognised as one of Africa’s wine elite.

WHAT ELSE

The winery forms part of larger mixed-farming business called De Rust Estate. In addition to the vineyards and cellar, there are apple and pear orchards, a Hereford stud and eco-tourism activities, as well as amphitheatre concerts. This 2 000-plus-hectare estate forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Kogelberg Biosphere. Half of the estate has been set aside for conservation. Most recently awarded the Nedbank Green Award and Woolworths Farming for the Future status.

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Diemersdal Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2013 

**** 4 STARS

R80

Tel +27 (0)21 976 3361, www.diemersdal.co.za

PANEL COMMENT

100% unfiltered Sauvignon Blanc from a 25-year-old single vineyard in Durbanville. Treated reductively in the cellar, after 24 hours skin contact, the wine was fermented and left on the lees for four months before bottling. Full tropical fruit notes on the nose, with a bright acidity to rein in the sweet, ripe fruit on the palate. The gorgeous mouthfeel is enhanced by the regular stirring of the lees and balances perfectly with the fruit richness and fine structure of the wine. A lingering grapefruit finish, begs for another glass! 

This newcomer from Vredendal, a town in the northern Olifants River Valley (Western Cape), has been in the Teubes family for three generations. Grandfather Sybrand Teubes farms alongside son, owner Johan Teubes, and grandson Sybrand Teubes on the farm where the cellar is located, Houmoed. The cellar produces three ranges: Teubes Family Wines, Malkopbaai and Sir Lambert (named after Admiral Sir Robert Lambert, commander of the Cape Town Naval Station in the early 1820s, who ventured up to the Cape West Coast in 1926 to map out the furthest reaches of this rugged coastline – Lambert’s Bay was named after him).

WHAT ELSE

The Teubes Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2012 was recently awarded a gold medal at the Michelangelo International Wine Awards. The Malkopbaai Sauvignon Blanc 2012 and Teubes Wines Pinotage 2011 walked away with silver.

 

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Kleine Zalze Family Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2012 

**** 4 STARS

R130

Tel +27 (0)21 880 0717, www.kleinezalze.co.za

PANEL COMMENT

100% Sauvignon Blanc from five different regions, namely Stellenbosch, Durbanville, Darling, Walker Bay and the West Coast. All the vineyards are less than 10km from the sea! The best bunches are harvested at night and vinified separately in stainless-steel tanks and left on the lees for 10 months before blending. This wine is full-bodied with concentrated bright green pepper, fig, pea and floral notes. Superb balance and well-rounded creamy mouthfeel adds to the complexity and a pleasing lime-zest-dominated finish. Will age well. 

 

This family-owned winery, situated just 3km outside Stellenbosch, forms part of the greater 300-hectare De Zalze Winelands Golf Estate comprising a golf course, of course, as well as accommodation, dining and wine tasting, and function facilities. Winemaking here dates back to 1695, with ranges under cellarmaster Johan Joubert offering good value at each level, to which the ever-growing collection of trophies and awards can attest.

WHAT ELSE

Since Terroir Restaurant opened in October 2004, it has become one of the most sought-after gourmet destinations in the Cape winelands. Multi award-winning chef Michael Broughton’s menu offers ‘deceptively simple’ classic pairings with intense depth of flavour.

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Teubes Sauvignon Blanc 2012 

**** 4 STARS

R95

Tel +27 (0)27 213 2377, www.teubeswines.co.za

PANEL COMMENT

100% Sauvignon Blanc from the Olifants River on the Cape West Coast. The grapes were harvested early in the morning and vinified with minimal intervention. Offers pure blackcurrant, lime, herbal notes with a mineral overlay. Austere and dry in a typical Sancerre style, the citrus fruit is tightly wound around a firm acidity, displaying impressive concentration and focus. Noteworthy complexity, outstanding depth and clarity, and a zesty mineral bite on the unflagging finish. 


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This newcomer from Vredendal, a town in the northern Olifants River Valley (Western Cape), has been in the Teubes family for three generations. Grandfather Sybrand Teubes farms alongside son, owner Johan Teubes, and grandson Sybrand Teubes on the farm where the cellar is located, Houmoed. The cellar produces three ranges: Teubes Family Wines, Malkopbaai and Sir Lambert (named after Admiral Sir Robert Lambert, commander of the Cape Town Naval Station in the early 1820s, who ventured up to the Cape West Coast in 1926 to map out the furthest reaches of this rugged coastline – Lambert’s Bay was named after him).

WHAT ELSE

The Teubes Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2012 was recently awarded a gold medal at the Michelangelo International Wine Awards. The Malkopbaai Sauvignon Blanc 2012 and Teubes Wines Pinotage 2011 walked away with silver.