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Saturday, November 7, 2009


Private tasting group of wild white wine.

Sauvignon blanc wine is not everybody’s favourite. I know two or three people who do not care for it, and for many others its crisp, sharp, tangy character is something of an acquired taste. Most wine drinkers, however, find it refreshing, interesting, and a good accompaniment for a wide range of foods. And it has as wide and subtle range of aromas and flavours as any other white wine. The terms that are most often used are herbaceous, grassy, gooseberry, asparagus, lime, vanilla, flinty, oak, grapefruit, melon, apple.

Incidentally the name, French obviously, means “wild white wine”; originally it was a wild grape indigenous to south-west France. Today it is grown in France, California, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and of course South Africa.

When our private tasting group met recently the host of the day, Alf Sudheim, presented ten South African sauvignon blancs from the 2009 vintage. It was a formidably long list, but he explained that he had chosen four expensive wines, four middle of the range and two relatively inexpensive items. Alf arranged a similar tasting a year ago and on that occasion top marks in the blind tasting went to the Steenberg sauvignon blanc from the distinguished estate at Constantia, with second place going to the Springfield Life from Stone from the Robertson area. This time the Springfield was joint first and the Steenberg fourth.

The Life from Stone name stems from the fact that this wine has a strong mineral character and comes from grapes grown in the stoniest soils of the Springfield estate. The wine is a bright green colour with flinty, mineral, passion fruit features. It retails for about R70 in Durban, not cheap but reasonable value for a wine of this quality.

Joint first in our tasting was the sauvignon from Iona Vineyards at Elgin, a fairly new cellar which bottled its first wine eight years ago and has quickly built a reputation for high quality. This was another flinty, stony type of wine, most distinctive and elegant. Price about R84.

In third place was another Springfield wine, their Special Cuvee, with a flinty background again, but also with a gooseberry and passion fruit character - R82. The fourth-placed Steenberg was of a more fruity type: gooseberry and a touch of tropical fruit - R89. One of the inexpensive wines shared fourth place with the Steenberg. This was Porcupine Ridge. This wine comes from the Boekenhoutskloof winery at Franschhoek. It has gooseberry and fruit flavours with a dry finish, and it is pleasantly light at 12 per cent alcohol. Pleasantly light in price, too, about R34 a bottle.

The other wines tasted were: Klein Constantia, one of the Cape’s most famous sauvignons, a complex wine with tastes and aromas of herbs, gooseberry, guava, tropical fruit. - R76; Villiera, from Stellenbosch, intense, zesty, with flavours of fig and gooseberry - R48; Leopard’s Leap, one of the inexpensive wines and very good, lime, grapefruit, zesty - R32; Moreson, from Franschhoek, herbaceous, flavours of green pepper, crisp - R65, and La Motte, from another distinguished Franschhoek estate, clear colour, apple aroma, gooseberry taste, dry - R50.

The Moreson was the only wine out of the ten with a cork. All the others had screwtops. – Michael Green