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The re-emergence of wooded Sauvignon Blanc

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“I’d rather drink a wooded Sauvignon Blanc over an unwooded Chardonnay,” remarked celebrity chef Pete Goffe-Wood over lunch the other day and I tend to share the sentiment. Chablis is Chablis but local unwooded Chardonnay often underwhelms, the wines failing to show real complexity.

The Giant Periwinkle Blanc Fumé 2016Wooded Sauvignon Blanc, on the other hand, is re-emerging as a terrifically exciting category – “Blanc Fumé” was a brief phenomenon in the late 1990s and early 2000s but these were largely misconceived, the wines tending to showing the overt green character which marks so many examples of the variety with dollops of barrel-derived vanilla and spice on top.

These rightfully dropped out of the market but in recent times we have started to see much more proficient use of oak in the winemaking process, the end-result being wines which might usefully be compared to Graves, Bordeaux on account of their detail and balance.

Of course, Graves typically includes some Semillon and South Africa has replicated the “Bordeaux white blend” with huge success –Iona One Man Band White 2015, Strandveld Adamastor 2014 and Tokara Director’s Reserve White 2014 all rated 94 on the 100-point quality scale in last year’s category review – but these are notoriously difficult to sell, the outgoing Tokara winemaker Miles Mossop once saying to me that some consumers find that they taste too much like straight Sauvignon and then can’t understand why they must pay a premium while others find that don’t taste like straight Sauvignon enough!

What “Wooded Sauvingon Blanc” allows producers to do is to gain the extra complexity that barrel fermentation and maturation facilitates but avoid any tricky marketing issues. Moreover, regulations allow the addition of up to 15% Semillon without having to declare it so many producers are in fact blending as well.

Examples of wooded Sauvignon Blanc which have caught the eye recently are Marianne 2016, Mulderbosch 1000 Miles 2015 and The Giant Periwinkle Blanc Fumé 2016. Then there’s Matt Day of Klein Constantia – nobody’s more committed to unlocking the potential of Sauvignon Blanc than him and needless to say, his small-batch experimental wines feature oak. These aren’t commercially available but present your credentials and a tasting might be forthcoming.

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