The newly launched WINE magazine TOPS at SPAR Sauvignon Blanc Top 10 seeks to champion the production of quality examples of this variety in South Africa. Christian Eedes reports.In the September 2007 issue of Decanter, South African Sauvignon Blanc is declared "classé" while that from New Zealand is dismissed as "passé". Of the former, the UK wine magazine writes: "The jury's still out on its reds, but Cape whites are all the rage, via characterful, fresh, minerally Sauvignon flavours". The latter, meanwhile, is described as having "put the Kiwis on the map, but there's only so much in-your-face gooseberry and cat's pee one can take. . ."
This year's review of local Sauvignon Blanc from the 2007 vintage confirms that it's a very strong category with one wine rating 4½ Stars and a further 10 rated 4 Stars. The impact of vintage can be seen however by virtue of the fact that this year's line-up that was dominated by wines from 2007 (supplemented with 2006s in the case of producers who choose to release their wines later) and saw only 40% (45 out of 112 wines) rate 3 Stars or better. Last year with the focus mainly on wines from 2006, almost 70% of the wines under review made the equivalent grade.
Prior to this tasting 2007 had been widely trumpeted as a particularly good Sauvignon Blanc vintage but panellist Karl Lambour, winemaker at Constantia Glen, suggested the vintage had posed more challenges than initially realised. He said many producers had to harvest particularly early in 2007 when a severe end-of-January heatwave and the subsequent potential of rain jeopardised grape flavour. Hence wines tended to be lighter bodied and less rich.
That was one explanation for the lack of flavour and palate weight, but Colin Frith, honorary member of the Institute of Cape Wine Masters and panel chairman, suggested a more fundamental explanation was too many wines made from over irrigated and over-cropped vineyards.
While bemoaning how "watery" some of the wines appeared, Cape Wine Master Christine Rudman suggested that others might simply be a little dumb now, needing more time to show their best.
The panel discerned two broad styles: herbaceous and a more tropical fruited character, both equally legitimate although it did seem that the latter wines performed better overall.
One particularly controversial result is the Woolworths Cape Point Vineyards Limited Release 2007 which rated 1 Star in this tasting, despite picking up 5 Stars in the 2008 edition of the Platter guide. This is where I break ranks, having scored it 18/20 while the rest of panel found the wine either faulty or close to faulty on account of mercaptan character.
Technically, mercaptans are strong smelling chemical compounds that can develop in Sauvignon Blanc under reductive fermentation conditions. What happens is that yeast reacts with sulphur in the lees after primary fermentation giving the wine an aromatic pungency, euphemistically described as "musky". Past a point, mercaptans are considered problematic but at lower levels can enhance complexity. Where's the threshold of unacceptable versus acceptable?
To baffle the novice even further, what appealed to me about this wine was what I considered to be pronounced levels of methoxypyrazines. These are the naturally occurring flavour compounds that give Sauvignon Blanc its typically herbaceous character with concentrations being higher for grapes grown in cooler climates.
I increasingly find many tasters resistant to wines with extreme levels of methoxy-pyrazines on the grounds that they find them too austere. But then I like the distinctiveness and purity that such wines offer and also rated other cool climate examples such as Cederberg, Neil Ellis Groenekloof, Oak Valley 2006 and Tokara Elgin as top class in this tasting despite them getting lower ratings overall. As Cape Wine Master and Woolworths wine selector Alan Mullins said, it's ultimately up to the individual consumer to decide stylistic preference.
Best value sauvignon blanc – Top 10
Sauvignon Blancs recommended as particularly good value on the basis of their quality/price ratio in the context of the average price (R60) of all the wines
assessed – 11 wines on account of the dead-heat (same value rating) for wines eight to 11 in the rankings
|Name of wine||
|2||Slanghoek Private Selection 2007||
|4||Van Loveren 2007||
|6||Backsberg John Martin 2007||
|6||Springfield Life from Stone 2007||
|8||Bon Courage 2007||
WINE magazine TOPS at SPAR Sauvignon Blanc Top 10
In order to arrive at the first ever Sauvignon Blanc Top 10, co-sponsored by retailer TOPS at SPAR, we reviewed wines mainly from the 2007 vintage, supplemented with 2006s in the case of producers who choose to release their wines later.
The decision to present a top 10 rather than one outright winner was prompted by both the depth of quality as well as the breadth of styles the Sauvignon Blanc category displays. Here are this year's top 10 in alphabetical order – 11 wines on account of the dead-heat (same combined score) for two wines in 10th place.
- Alexanderfontein 2007
- Backsberg John Martin 2007
- Bloemendal Suider Terras 2006
- Cape Point 2006
- De Grendel Koetshuis 2007
- Diemersdal Eight Rows 2007
- Fleur du Cap Unfiltered 2007
- Graham Beck Pheasant's Run 2007
- Groote Post Reserve 2007
- Nitida 2007
- Springfield Life from Stone 2007
Are you getting what you pay for?
Average price of the 112 Sauvignon Blanc wines assessed: R60
Average price of 11 wines rated 4 to 4½ Stars: R70
Average price of 34 wines rated 3 to 3½ Stars: R69
Average price of 21 wines rated 3 Stars: R67
Average price of 67 wines rated less than 3 Stars: R54
Average price of 11 wines rated less than 2 Stars: R57
Cape Point 2006
CELLAR PRICE: SO R110
Bold herbaceous nose. Great intensity on the palate. Flavours range from lime and bell pepper to tropical fruit. Long finish. Drink now or over 4 years.
CF 16 CR 16.5 AM 19 KL 16 CE 18
ORMONDE PRICE: R30
Grassy nose. Pure, zesty and clean on palate with fresh acid. Long dry finish. Drink now.
CF 16 CR 16 AM 16 KL 16 CE 16
Backsberg John Martin Reserve 2007*
CELLAR PRICE: R53
Deep in colour. Forthcoming lime nose. Rich and full flavoured. Juicy fruit matched by fresh acid. Well balanced. Drink now or over 2 years.
CF 15.5 CR 16 AM 16.5 KL 15.5 CE 16
Springfield Life from Stone 2007
CELLAR PRICE: R53
Guava, gooseberry and tropical fruit whiffs. Juicy fruit and vibrant acid on palate. Very expressive. Drink now or over 2 years.
CF 16 CR 16 AM 16.5 KL 16 CE 15
CELLAR PRICE: R56
Delicate nose of nettles and grass. Medium bodied, elegant palate with crisp acid. Long dry finish. Drink now or over 2 years.
CF 16 CR 16.5 AM 16 KL 15.5 CE 15
Bloemendal Suider Terras 2006
CELLAR PRICE: R65
Tropical fruit nose with hint of development. Sweet, rich and ripe on the palate balanced by tangy acid. Almost oily texture. Drink now.
CF 15.5 CR 16 AM 16.5 KL 15 CE 18
De Grendel Koetshuis 2007*
CELLAR PRICE: R70
Grassy aromatics. Elegant, flavourful palate with pepper and asparagus balanced by fresh acid. Long dry finish. Drink now or over 5 years.
CF 16 CR 16 AM 16 KL 16.5 CE 18
Diemersdal Eight Rows 2007
CELLAR PRICE: R75
Asparagus and herbaceous nose. Full bodied but balanced with juicy fruit and crisp acid. Drink now or over 2 years.
CF 16 CR 16 AM 15 KL 16 CE 16
Fleur du Cap Unfiltered 2007
BERGKELDER PRICE: R76
Forward grass and capsicum nose. Weighty, intensely flavoured palate. Lively acid. Extravagant style. Drink now or over 2 years.
CF 16 CR 16 AM 16 KL 16 CE 18
Graham Beck Pheasant's Run 2007*
CELLAR PRICE: R84
Ripe with asparagus/green pea aromas. Rich and full in the mouth. Crisp acidity. Drink now or over 2 years.
CF 16 CR 16 AM 15 KL 16 CE 17
Groote Post Reserve 2007
APPROXIMATE RETAIL PRICE: R100
Complex nose – nettles, figs and asparagus. Same on rich, ripe palate. Lively acid. Long dry finish. Drink now or over 2 years.
CF 15.5 CR 16 AM 16 KL 16.5 CE 16
Fairview 2007 * R39
Springfield Special Cuvée 2007 R53
Spier Vintage Selection 2007 R55
Neil Ellis Groenekloof 2007 * R60
Chamonix Reserve 2006 R60
Woolworths Nitida Limited Release 2007 RP R64.95
Vrede en Lust 2007 * R65
Oak Valley 2006 * R65
Spier Private Collection 2007 * R75
Mulderbosch 2007 R80
Woolworths Groote Post Reserve 2007 RP R89.95
Kumkani Lanner Hill 2007 (Company of Wine People) R95
Boschendal Cecil John Reserve 2006 R149
Môreson 2007 R44
Spice Route 2007 * R45
Tokara Zondernaam 2007 * R45
Le Bonheur 2007 ARP R45
Chamonix 2007 R48
Avondale 2007 * R50
Quoin Rock Cape Agulhas 2006 R55
Cape Point Stonehaven 2007 R60
Ormonde 2006 R60
Buitenverwachting Hussey's Vlei 2007 R60
Waterford 2006 R65
Creation 2007 RP R68
Hermanuspietersfontein Nr 3 2007* R69.95
Kleine Zalze Family Reserve 2007 R75
Constantia Uitsig 2007 * R75
Nederburg Manor House 2007 ARP R75
Tokara Walker Bay 2007 * R75
Warwick Professor Black 2007 * R80
The Berrio 2007 * (Flagstone) R92
Nitida Club Selection Limited Release 2007 * R100
Steenberg Reserve 2007 R125
Slanghoek Private Selection 2007 R23
Welmoed 2007 * R25
Van Loveren 2007 * R26
Bon Courage 2007 * R32
Strandveld 2007 R35
Rietvallei 2007 * R35
Usana 2007 R36
Brampton 2007 * (Rustenberg) R38
Uitkyk 2007 ARP R43
KC 2007 * (Klein Constantia) R48
Nederburg 2007 R48
Villiera Traditional Bush Vine 2007 R48
Sumaridge 2007 * R50
Hillcrest 2007 R50
Ken Forrester 2007 * R50
South Hill 2007 * R50
Thelema Sutherland 2007 R55
Arendsig Single Vineyard 2007 R55
First Sighting 2007 * R56
Groot Constantia 2007 R60
Newton Johnson 2007 * R60
Hidden Valley 2007 * R62
Southern Right 2007 R65
Cederberg 2007 R70
Klein Constantia 2007 R70
Vergelegen 2007 * R70
Tokara Elgin 2007 * R75
Avontuur Sarabande Reserve 2007 R75
Lomond Pincushion 2007 * RP R84.35
Lomond Sugarbush 2007 * RP R84.35
Pinehurst 2007 * (Môreson) R32
Porcupine Ridge 2007 * (Boekenhoutskloof) R35
Zonnebloem 2007 ARP R37
Neethlingshof 2007 * ARP R41
Overgaauw 2007 * R42
Diemersdal 2007 R42
Robertson Retreat 2007 * R43.75
Weltevrede The Travelling Stone 2007 R44
Fort Simon 2007 R45
Quando 2007 * R45
Stormhoek 2007 * ARP R47
Sterhuis 2007 R49
Elgin Vintners 2007 * R50
La Vierge Temptation 2007 * R55
Thelema 2007 * R55
Signatures of Doolhof 2007 R55
Altydgedacht Reserve 2007 * R55
Clos Malverne 2007 RP R58
Durbanville Hills Rhinofields 2006 R60
Diemersdal Single Vineyard 2007 R65
Sir Lambert 2007 R65
La Motte Pierneef 2007 R68
Saronsberg 2007 R70
Steenberg 2007 (standard) R72
Fryer's Cove 2007 * R80
Diemersdal MM Louw 2007 R100
Raka 2007 R40
Lushof 2007 * R45
Laibach 2007 * R45
Simonsig Sunbird 2007 * ARP R45
Catherine Marshall 2007 * ARP R50
Buitenverwachting 2007 R55
Iona 2007 * R63
Zevenwacht 360º 2007 * R65
Woolworths Cape Point Vineyards R89.95
Limited Release 2007 RP
Ataraxia 2007 R66
Onyx 2007 (Darling Cellars) R67.35
PRICES: wines in each Star bracket listed in order of ascending price – all ex-cellar unless otherwise stipulated.
ARP Approximate retail price
RP Retail price
SO Sold out ex-cellar
* Bottled under screwcap
Wine tasters: Honorary Member of the Institute of Cape Wine Masters Colin Frith (chair) (CF), Cape Wine Masters Christine Rudman (CR) and Allan Mullins of Woolworths (AM), Constantia Glen winemaker Karl Lambour (KL) with WINE magazine deputy editor Christian Eedes (CE)