With summer powering its way through our ever more abrupt spring days, the swing to white wines has been faster than the fall of Bell Pottinger. A month ago restaurants and wine stores were still doing a roaring trade in robust reds. Now even the Rosés are battling to get a look in as “fresh and crisp” are the key descriptors on many shopping lists.
Fortunately the Cape’s strength in white wines offers a seemingly endless range of possibilities. For the sauvignon blanc fans there is a choice of styles, and a palette of flavours to suit every palate. Oz Clarke, one of the UK’s best know wine writers, was in South Africa a few years back to judge at the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show. At the post-judging press feedback session he announced that the stylistic breadth of South Africa’s sauvignon blanc sets us apart from every other wine producing country. “You can do fabulous Loire-style wines, but also brilliant Kiwi lookalikes. You also have your own unique expressions of the grape. Nowhere else in the world offers this versatility.”
What he wasn’t in a position to add at the time (because judges taste blind and have no idea of the selling prices of the bottles on the tasting bench) is how extraordinarily well priced many of our top sauvignons are. The 2017 Douglas Green Tall Horse (with its “critter wine” packaging counting against it in the world of wine snobs) is simply delicious, jam-packed with easy, accessible tropical flavours, none of the austere green notes which usually betoken under-ripeness, and just enough lime blossom on the palate to spare it finishing cloying. At under R50 per bottle, it’s a perfect casual lunch time drink.
If you’re looking at spending a lot more money (and indeed, the extra few hundred Rands will buy you more complexity) you could track down the fabulous Tokara Director’s Reserve 2014 – a white Bordeaux blend which has 31% semillon to accompany the sauvignon – and is obviously much richer, and more age-worthy as a result. An in-between choice would be to go for the Boschendal Elgin Series Sauvignon blanc 2016 (more of the mown hay whiffs) or the Tokara Elgin Sauvignon 2016 – fresher capsicum notes (none of them truly herbal) and great palate weight and intensity.
In the same pursuit of freshness, it’s worth tracking down two semillons – the 2014 Deetlefs, and the Cape of Good Hope Laing’s Vineyard (pretty much any vintage). These together with the Boekenhoutskloof and the Landau du Val Semillons from Franschhoek are true industry (and international) benchmarks. They are infinitely more interesting than most of the fresh, fragrant and pretty summer wines that work well enough when no one is paying attention. There’s also a semillon dominated white Bordeaux blend – the other side of the Tokara Director’s Reserve – in the form of the 2015 Cape Point Isliedh: 83% semillon, grippy and very thatchy now, but with a future of infinite possibility stretching out ahead of it for at least another decade.
There’s also much pleasure to be had from really fine, bright-fruited whites. Among the Rhine Rieslings The Fledge’s Jikken Bareru Elgin Riesling is a steal at around R100 – and it has great keeping qualities. David Trafford’s Sjinn property at Malgas is the source of a truly authentic Viognier – all the perfume and fruit you would expect from a Northern Rhone classic, but at a fraction of the price. Diemersdal’s Gruner Veltliner – the only South African bottling of this fabulous Austrian white grape – is also a “must-buy” summer white wine: the 2016 is a lively fruit salad of tangy citrus, quince and melon, but with real concentration and detail, all for about R100.
So, without even considering South Africa’s most successful (and most widely appreciated internationally) cultivars, namely chardonnay and chenin blanc, it’s pretty easy to assemble a great line-up of white wines. You couldn’t do this, while matching the value, anywhere else in the world.