Groote Post Woolworths Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2009

January 11, 2011
by Christian
in What I Drank Last Night
with 7 Comments
Do you get the top note of gooseberry on this wine?

Do you get the top note of gooseberry on this wine?

“Freshly cut grass, straw, asparagus and gooseberry, typical of climatic conditions in Darling. This wine spent 3 months on the lees to maximize freshness,” informs the back label of the Groote Post Woolworths Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2009, and while I related to the grass and asparagus, the description of “gooseberries” did not evoke very much for me.

It made me think that while gooseberries as a way of alluding to the aroma and flavour of Sauvignon Blanc has become conventional, I’ve never found it that useful. Fearful that I was missing out on a key analytical tool all this time, I rushed to the fridge and extracted an in-season gooseberry, halved it with a knife, and sniffed deeply. No smell of any real significance, as far as I could tell.

As ever with wine tasting language, I think the application of “gooseberries” to Sauvignon Blanc works on a metaphorical rather than literal level. Where gooseberries and Sauvignon Blanc are similar is that they have the same sweet ‘n sour tang and hence referring to gooseberries when encountering Sauvignon Blanc becomes a sort of descriptive shorthand.

I have to confess that I find tasting notes which are laden with descriptors difficult to generate myself (when does a strawberry stop being a strawberry and become a raspberry, for instance?) and not terribly useful when generated by others (due to the ultimate impossibility of common sensory experience).

We obviously do need some sort of language to speak about wine otherwise it would be impossible to understand or learn anything about it. Wines depicted in terms of other aromas and tastes whether they be animal, vegetable or mineral can be useful when applied sensitively but I think it is far more worthwhile to talk about issues of balance and structure, intensity of flavour and complexity. In that respect, I would describe the Groote Post Woolworths Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2009 as rich and broad on the palate with huge flavour intensity but balanced by bright acidity. A sumptuous wine that is starting to display some secondary character, suited to food rather than being drunk as an aperitif. Very good but perhaps too weighty and therefore tiring to drink to be considered excellent.

As UK wine writer Andrew Jefford says in a great article I stumbled across on his blog called “Wine and Words”, the trick is to “tell [the reader] about the particular way a wine is a wine”. The concern is always that you become too fanciful but as Jefford says, “Don’t be afraid of being called pretentious: that’s just a term humourless philistines use to compensate for their own imaginative inadequacies.”

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7 Comments

  1. CathyJanuary 11, 2011 at 4:26 pmReply

    Hi Peter – you’re right, nothing nicer than a ripe English gooseberry, but unripe ones, stolen from your great aunt’s garden and scoffed behind the shed at the age of six – mmm, now that is a taste which sticks in your memory for a very long time!! I use gooseberry as a description frequently, confident in the knowledge that I have actually tasted the green ones and that that is what I mean. I suppose it is a wake-up call for me too to realise that a lot of South Africans must have been wondering what the hell I was talking about all this time! (Memo to self – never discount the ‘sheep’ factor when winetasting.)

  2. ChristianJanuary 11, 2011 at 4:19 pmReplyAuthor

    I strikes me that if those using “gooseberry” as a descriptor for Sauvignon Blanc intend the European gooseberry (as they may well be), then we have yet another case of cultural cringe, our local experience apparently inadequate forcing us to look for terminology from elsewhere. This is sadly commonplace. Local reds, for instance, are often “herbaceous” and therefore inadequate while those from the Rhône show “garrigue” and are all the more authentic for it. Insert “fynbos” for”herbaceous” and our wines become all the more palatable.

  3. Peter F MayJanuary 11, 2011 at 2:10 pmReply

    PS – Cathy, gooseberries are delicious when ripe. They go soft but they have a very short life when ripe and they are an uncommercial crop these days as fresh fruit. Their season is very short in the shops and they are always picked very unripe.

  4. Peter F MayJanuary 11, 2011 at 2:06 pmReply

    As others have commented.

    My son, on holiday from England, was in Delheim tasting room with some girls from Johannesburg. The pourer of some Sauvignon Blanc told them it’d taste of gooseberries. One girl asked what gooseberries were and my son said tart green hairy berries. Another girl said they were small hard and orange. They asked the pourer who agreed gooseberries are small hard and orange. So my son was confused because we have gooseberry bushes in our garden.

    Sauvignon Blanc really does taste like gooseberry – the green tart tangy sort – and that is the gooseberry that wine writers are referring to in their description of the taste of savvy, and it is spot on. Its that twisting acidic tang. It’s in the same style (but not taste) that rhubarb has.
    The orange ones I have seen labelled as gooseberries in SAf shops are not the same fruit at all. They are Physalis, sometimes called cape gooseberry after the cape – paper like outer case – that surrounds them.
    I don’t think that Physalis tastes at all like Sauvignon Blanc whereas as (green ) gooseberry is 100% spot on and I am bemused that the reference to gooseberry is being made in SAf by people who are thinking of Physalis.

    The label description on the Woolworths own label wine is particularly surprising – it is obviously not an export label and is aimed solely at South Africans in a South African shop that sells trays of gooseberries (i.e.Physalis) a few feet away that don’t taste anything like it. So did the label writer just copy a taste profile of Sauvignon Blanc from a European text book thinking it must be correct even when it didn’t agree what his/her palate was tasting?

    PS_ Why is it impossible to do line feeds here to break up text??

  5. RyanJanuary 11, 2011 at 2:02 pmReply

    Christian, I think your post touches on two very interesting points: 1) The need to revert to a standardised set of wine descriptors, such as the “wine aroma wheel” (www.uncorkedlove.com); and 2) the fact that tasting and smelling wine remains a very intimate and subjective experience. When tasting I use the aroma wheel as a guide to get my tatebuds in a row and to identify certain elements that I am smelling. For example, the smoke and chocolate and mocha aromas in wine relate to the wood in wine, while the strawberries and plum flavours relate to the spectrum of fruit found in the wine. This helps me to identify what the wine tells me. Fruit dominating or wood and tannin dominating. I have sometimes embarrassed my wife and guests by being totally honest and relaying the “smelly armpit” or “old horse sweat” or “cat pee” in wines. The wine wheel has helped me to describe aromas more succinctly. So even though I sometimes smell very weird stuff in wine, I try to stick to smells most people can relate to. The aroma wheel has helped me a lot to “get my tastebuds in a row”. I am always amused at dinner time when I asked my 6 year old daughter what she smells in a wine and she without hesitation and without trying to be funny, says: “Crushed, old grapes”. I took her to a foot pressing when she was 4. I guess I ruined her wine aroma imagination forever! She simply recalls the aromas she has of that day. Who am I to disagree? What also helps is (as you obviously also do) is to become a compulsive sniffer. I smell anything I can lay my hands on. From a piece of rubber cut from my old wheels to the bunny’s bedding. By identifying smells particularly to a place and time makes wine tasting all the more personal and fun!

  6. KwispedoorJanuary 11, 2011 at 9:03 amReply

    If “gooseberry” is used as a descriptor on a South African wine’s label, why don’t they just say “European gooseberry”? I’ve never tasted the latter and the only people that I’ve met who has, have made a point of tracking it down when travelling. Therefore, I really do think the descriptor “gooseberry” on an SA wine label is pretentious. If one does choose to use specific descriptors like that, I also believe it should be preceded by “in its youth” as the wine will change during maturation.

  7. CathyJanuary 11, 2011 at 8:49 amReply

    I think the problem is that gooseberry as a wine description generally refers to the European fruit where it is a sharp, tart, green and hairy blighter, inedible on its own and best served in a very sugary dessert such as a fool or crumble. The orange ones we get here in SA are nothing like them and I suspect that blithely referring to SB as tasting like gooseberries is a case of SA wine farms copying the ‘traditional’ descriptors without necessarily realising there is a cultural and culinary difference.

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