Living in Cape Town can really be tough. Especially when you put yourself through a small Sauvignon Blanc tasting – made up mostly of wines from the much vaunted 2009 Vintage – at The Roundhouse. Wanting to take advantage of the evening, I arrived a little early to read some Bolaño, prepare myself with a bottle of Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc 2009, and of course, take in the view.
As I said, sometimes life is tough.
As I sat dipping in and out of Bolano I considered Sauvignon Blanc, and tried to remember a little of what I know about it. It’s ancestral home is in the Loire Valley and Bordeaux. At some stage it was introduced to Cabernet Franc. Sauvignon Blanc blushed, Cabernet Franc didn’t know where to look, but they got past all that and fell hopelessly in love; and from this union we were blessed with Cabernet Sauvignon. Flavours range from grass and green peppers through to tropical fruits as the climate goes from cool to warm. These grassy flavours come from the chemical compounds called methoxypyrazines. Great word: methoxypyrazines, say it one more time, aloud, methoxypyrazines. An obvious example would be Springfield’s Life From Stone, which is almost pure methoxypyrazine in a bottle. Next time you taste those green flavours in a Sauvignon Blanc, turn to your friends and say, “Mmmmm, just taste that methoxypyrazine.”
Enough of that. I finished the Steenberg, which was excellent but I’ll leave the description to the tasting notes below. The team at Under the Influence are up to some very exciting things which, frankly, just make me jealous that I am not doing them. They are looking to bring out small experimental wines, single barrel bottlings, selling their First Growth cases (super value on boutique labels) and are hosting relaxed tastings of generally kick-ass wines all over the country. Check out their website and join in a tasting. I will do a full feature-length post on them soon.
We had our tasting at the bottom of The Roundhouse’s garden; under a tree, taking in the last bit of the sun as it slowly turned the clouds above the 12 Apostles pink, by this stage I was despairing at the difficulty of it all. As this was one of Under the Influence’s ‘deconstructing’ tastings (which wine would be Derrida’s favourite?) the table was cluttered with wine glasses containing those elements you would expect to find in the wine. So for Sauvignon Blanc we had glasses filled with figs, tinned peas, grass and green peppers. After a good sniffing and a little intro by Allister Kreft, our host and one of brains behind Under the Influence, we started to taste.
The wines were selected from various areas around the Cape to show the different expressions of Sauvignon Blanc.
We started with a the Bouchard Finlayson 2009 ( Alc 13,2%, Acid 6,8 g/L RS 2,3 g/L, R78) from Walker Bay. It had a typical cool climate nose dominated by green pepper and some herbaceous undertones. The green pepper followed through to the palate with some peas and maybe a hint of parsley. Not the best effort as the middle palate was almost non-existent and the wine fell apart like a Haitian building. No finish to speak of except a bitter edge that made me upend the wine onto the grass without delay. An unassuming wine that is fine to quaff but pointless to contemplate.
Next up was the Southern Right 2009 ( Alc 13.16%, Acid 7.1G/L, RS 2.5G/L, R77.02) from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. A bit of a disappointment again unfortunately. The nose was rather quiet with typical green pepper and cut grass slowly emerging as the wine opened up in the glass, but very straight-forward. There was a bit of weight in the palate that balanced the zingyness of the cool climate green flavours, but again the finish here was very short lived. Another quaffer, but for the price I reckon you can do better.
The Iona 2009 (Alc 13,8%, RS 1,1 g/l, Acid 6,7 g/l, R93.60) from grapes grown in Elgin was a step up in quality. Crystal clear with the slightest brush of green, its nose was a flinty mix of tinned asparagus, grass, and a dried fruit note that was very appealing. I think they may have been a tiny bit of lees contact that gave a gentle weight to the palate of green peppers, flint, and dried apricot that was pulled together tautly with a lasso of acidity. The finish was satisfying in length but not overly long. I am a big fan of Iona Sauvignon Blanc which is always elegant and above all balanced. Not cheap but just about worth the price.
After the improvement of the Iona there was a but of a dip with Constantia’s Buitenverwachting Hussey’s Vlei 2008 (Could find info online, will update ASAP) which had a timid nose at first but then begrudgingly gave a herbaceous scent with a touch of green pepper. The palate was not very expressive and the prickly acidity was a tad out of joint. Straightforward green flavours offering little depth. It had a broad and fresh finish but was ankle deep.
The Steenberg 2009 (12.5 % , RS 1.9 g/l, Acid 7.6 g/l R80.59) was a ripper. The nose was a flinty sandwich of kiwi fruit garnished with a little green pepper and lemongrass. A clean, fresh mouth feel with a juicy burst of winter melon. The taught acidity made me think it could do with another year in the bottle at the very least, but if you like a zingy tropical fruit Sauvignon Blanc with enticing mineral edges you’ll love this. This is a sexy teenager-in-a-see-through-ball-gown wine, elegant but not yet entirely polished.
I was a little disappointed in the Villiera Bush Vines 2008 (Alc 12.38, RS 1.17, Acid 6.6 g/l R71.49 Sold Out), not that it was bad, just uninspiring; like a good looking pie that only has lentils inside, nice lentils, decent upstanding lentils, just not steak and kidney. The nose was very quiet although the palate made up some ground with a crisp green-apple start going into a mixed topical fruit-juice burst and finishing crisply; not long but squarely set.
Not finding any information on the Ingwe 2008 is not that much of an issue as the wine was in no state to write about, or drink. Oxidised and very pongy, like a big shaggy dog than had swum a few hours before in a bath of triple sec. It had been oaked a bit, and underneath the orange-dog-pong there was some aniseed and peach. It was fucking awful.
Saving the best till last Allister, with the knack of a cunning impresario pulled out the Lismore 2009 which he served blind. There was a salty tinned-pea nose that had me thinking Darling, I was wrong the grapes are from Greyton. A really interesting palate with the peas from the nose carrying through but taking a back-seat, and buttery pears coming to the front. The mouth feel was rich but restrained, the over-used phrase ‘judicious oaking’ can be used here with no fear. The finish lingered for awhile letting the pears fade into green flavours supported and enhanced by some racy acidity. This is a Sauvignon Blanc with balls, which doesn’t mean it hasn’t got restraint, it just kicked the ass of every other wine on the evening.
The quality of all the wines were pretty good, maybe at times a little boring with the Iona and the Lismore showing that this needn’t be the case. A definite case for adding an oak angle to South African Sauvignon Blancs was made by the Lismore; not to say the unoaked versions are superfluous, just that I’d appreciate a few more oaked attempts to choose from. Added complexity is always appreciated as I’ve experienced lately with Semillon being added to the mix, brilliant offerings of the blend from Vergelegen, Oak Valley and Tokara must be tried.
As darkness crept in and we started finishing of all the open bottles Allister told us that the Lismore is one of the wines that Under the Influence are looking to release in limited quantities. That is exciting and a very good reason to be listening out for whatever these guys are up to, because it usually tastes even better than it sounds.
(All prices were taken from eWine which I have nothing to do with, they just show high up on google)