Older Sauvignon Blanc

By , 20 December 2023



There is an argument that bigger wine tasting panels (five judges better than three, and seven better than five) are more proficient when it comes to valid outcomes because individual tasters all have genetic strengths and weaknesses – 25% of the population are anosmic to rotundone, the aroma compound that presents as pepper, for instance. If, however, exceptional wines are inclined to be divisive, then it could equally be contended that larger panels are counter-productive.

I was part of the five-member FNB Sauvignon Blanc Top 10 panel in 2018 and the organisers provided each of us with a 10-pack of the winning wines. How are these showing five years on?

Ratings and tasting notes as follows:

De Grendel Koetshuis 2017
The nose shows lime, Granny Smith apple, green pepper and fresh herbs plus a touch of peach. The palate is linear – dense fruit matched by punchy acidity. This shows clarity and verve and is drinking beautifully. Alc: 12.5%.

Flagstone Free Run 2017
Lime, lemon, fresh herbs and some leesy complexity on the nose while the palate has good concentration, snappy acidity and a dry finish. Well balanced and holding well. Alc: 14%.

Nitida Wild Child 2017
Enticing aromatics of potpourri, naartjie, nectarine, blackcurrant and perhaps a touch of mushroom. The palate is broad and flavourful with well-integrated acidity – most pleasurable. Alc: 14.15%.

Tokara Reserve Collection Elgin 2018
Blackcurrant, pear, peach and green apple. The palate is polished – blackcurrant, pear, peach and green apple. Round and creamy, this is nicely resolved and ready for drinking. Alc: 13.5%.

D’Aria The Songbird 2017
Green bean, lime and melon on the nose. The palate shows super-concentrated fruit and hard acidity – intact but rather ungiving.

Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection 2017
Peach, nectarine and a slight herbal note on the nose. The palate is well balanced – good fruit definition, creamy texture and well-integrated acidity. Pleasing if not thrilling. Alc: 13.5%.

Diemersdal Winter Ferment 2018
Exotic aromatics of orange, granadilla and pineapple. Sweet, rich and round, tangy acidity preventing the wine from becoming entirely cloying. Still alive but lacks detail. Alc: 14%.

Bellingham Homestead 2018
Developed aromatics – a slight vegetal quality, pineapple and bee’s wax. The palate is thick-textured and somewhat lacking in verve, the finish slightly bitter. Alc: 12.5%.

Rustenberg Stellenbosch 2018
The nose remains quite primary with top notes of hay and herbs before lime. The palate is light and somewhat dilute, the finish short. Alc: 13.5%.

Doringbay 2017 (Fryer’s Cove)
Nose and palate have faded significantly. To the extent that there are any aromatics, there are notes of asparagus and ashtray. The palate is dreary with a short finish. Alc: 14.5%.

In summary, then, four wines on 92 and therefore have proven themselves to be genuinely age-worthy; two wines on 90 and therefore intact but not necessarily more interesting than they were on release; and four wines sub-90 and hence relatively disappointing.

I’m very much in the camp that Sauvignon Blanc benefits from time in bottle but this exercise was chastening in the sense that clearly it is necessary to be highly selective about what is going to be put aside for maturation.

The wines probably all showed well enough five years ago but taken as a collective, they are now somewhat underwhelming. Would a smaller panel have produced a more compelling line-up of wines? I suspect so. That said, I increasingly realise that it is a much smaller number of wines that mature well than we all might like to think.


10 comment(s)

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    Jenna | 8 January 2024

    Late Martin Moore pulled out a 2007 vintage Besies Kraal for a tasting group of winemakers that I was involved in in 2022; all but one (out of eight winemakers) correctly guessed the vintage as 2007, with most of us placing it as 2017 and 2018. There is definitely something to be said about the ageability of Durbanville Sauv Blancs, which I am very happy to see reflected in the above scoring too!

    Bruce Ellison | 25 December 2023

    So, repeat tasting results were, I suggest as expected – I wouldn’t expect many to have improved – based on prior experience and also your historical reports and TJ report last
    Year on SB ageing. Also the top SB 10 then would be picked on attractiveness then, not future peak, and esp once taking into account the notable absentees that may improve..

    Kwispedoor | 22 December 2023

    I don’t think a smaller judging panel would have conjured up a significantly different Top 10. The fact is that many of the top Sauvignons (especially the more interesting ones and smaller batches) are simply not entered into this competition.

      Christian Eedes | 22 December 2023

      Hi Kwispedoor, The 2018 competition attracted 176 entries – you’d think that would include some of the top examples…

        Kwispedoor | 23 December 2023

        Only some, yes. But Sauvignon is probably the most bottled variety in SA, so that number would still exclude many. The wines entered are mostly reductively made, playing with thiols and pyrazines (or pyrazine avoidance). The likes of Trizanne Sondagskloof, Jasper Raats Driefontein Blanc, Reyneke Reserve White, Cape Point Vineyards Reserve, Lismore Barrel-Fermented, Bloemcool Witwalm, Fryer’s Cove Bamboes Bay, The Goose, Thorne & Daughters Snakes & Ladders, Winterhoek, etc. hardly – if ever – make an appearance. And, in terms of longevity, of the 2018 Top 10, only the Flagstone (I think) are made from Elim grapes – arguably the origin of our most age worthy Sauvignons. No Constantia or Noordhoek either. Indeed, decisions about which Sauvignons to put away needs to be well considered ones.

    Dana Buys | 21 December 2023

    I think it’s a broad statement to make in terms of older Sauvignon Blanc wines Christian. If you look at your results here, the cool climate SB’s did significantly better than the warmer climate SBs.

    That is to be expected, as wines made from grapes that were either harvested earlier and/or with acidity adjusted, will typically fall apart faster than those harvested fully ripe AND with sufficient acidity of their own.

    Uwe Böbs | 20 December 2023

    I think David’s question and answer needs clarity:
    These wines were Top 10 wines in 2018.
    If not the question David asked, I would like to know what the ratings of these 10 wines were at that Top 10 rating please?

      Christian Eedes | 21 December 2023

      Hi Uwe, The FNB Sauvignon Blanc Top 10 is not affiliated in any way to Winemag.co.za. As with all the bank-sponsored competitions (the others being Absa Pinotage Top 10 and Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top 10), scores of the individual wines are not made public.

    David | 20 December 2023

    What were your original scores? If you have them at hand.

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