Yesterday a workshop to discuss the way forward for Sauvignon Blanc hosted by Charles Hopkins, cellarmaster of Durbanville property De Grendel. Broadly speaking, three basic styles which can be labeled due to the dominant aromatic and flavour compounds at play, these being 1). Ester-driven; 2). Pyrazine-driven and 3). Thiol-driven.
Wines high in esters are typcially from warmer , inland growing areas and are lightly fruity and rather short-lived. Wines high in pyrazines tend to come from moderate or cooler areas and have pronounced “green” characteristics while wines with high thiol concentrations express characteristics of grapefruit, granadilla and other tropical fruit, the result of the conversion of the relevant precursors during fermentation – different yeast strains producing different concentrations of thiols.
It should also be noted that pyrazine levels decrease while the grape ripens; shaded fruit meanwhile will maximize the potential for retaining pyrazines whereas fruit exposed to sunlight is likely to produce lower pyrazine levels while retaining the thiol precursors.
The key question: when it comes to making Sauvignon Blanc, should the main aim be to accentuate the character of the variety, transform it or suppress it? Hopkins refers to himself as a “purist” and says he wants to “retain whatever he gets from his vines”. What does he make of anti-varietal, oak-influenced examples such as Chamonix Reserve, Reyneke White and Quoin Rock The Nicobar? “Bizarre” is his one-word reply.
De Grendel’s flagship Sauvignon Blanc goes under the Koetshuis label and typically sees own and Darling fruit combined. To illustrate the impact of different pyrazines levels on the end product, a tasting of various vintages:
1. De Grendel Koetshuis 2007
IBMP (2-isobutyl-3-methoxypyrazine) count: 64ng/l
Lime fruit, very herbal. Lighter bodied, great freshness.
2. De Grendel Koetshuis 2010
IBMP count: 55ng/l
Yellow fruit, hint of paprika. Great definition. Complex with a wide flavor spectrum. Good palate weight, balance and length.
3. De Grendel Koetshuis 2011
IBMP count: 17ng/l
Shy nose. Subtle flavor profile including yellow fruit. Broad rather than linear and relatively thick textured.
4. De Grendel Koetshuis 2012
IBMP count: 24ng/l
Very primary. Lime and a hint of herbaceousness. Light bodied, racy acidity, savoury finish. Appears pure and precise.
Not surprisingly, the 2011 is the wine with which Hopkins is least satisfied although I liked it quite a lot on account of it not being so overt. Wine of the day for me, however, was the 2010 on account of its extra complexity and surely excellence is to be achieved by producing wines with as many different aromatic and flavour compounds as possible rather than privileging any one set.