Tasting 47 Sauvignon Blancs in a row is not an easy task, especially for an aspiring palate such as mine. Not easy – call it overawed and under-jawed – but bloody good fun. Last Friday I was in Buitenverwachting’s old cellar getting as much enamel off my teeth as the Sauvignons from South Africa, France and New Zealand would take. It was a humbling experience (every time you are showed how little you know it is humbling) but immensely valuable. Heh, humility and value, just what I look for in wines. I think it is too soon to tell how much I learnt as I haven’t tasted a Sauvignon Blanc since; I’ve been quaffing large amount of anything red to balance out my weekend’s drinking.
I enjoyed the French wines most of all, possibly because of my excitement to taste them, we are such subjective creatures. I do think I prefer the minerally, “terroir driven” style (to quote Sebastion Redde a French wine maker, sorry, Vigneron, who joined us for the tasting) over the prickly fruit driven style of the New World. It might be because it is new to me and therefore exciting, like when Cloudy Bay burst onto the scene, “it was Sauvignon Blanc with volume turned up” said Hugh Johnson. Since then Cloudy Bay has toned down its full blown asparagus zippers that had everyone clamouring to get a bottle. Either way I found the French Sauvignon Blancs to have a deeper concentration and complexity on the whole. I also noted that the acid in the French versions seemed to be more natural, like the acidity of a very green apple which is refreshing and juicy rather than tart and sharp.
Here are my favourite Frenchies:
The 2007 Domaine Philipe Gilbert Menetou Salon (Les Renardieries) floored me with that intense bright Granny Smith acidity that stretched out on my palate, puckering me up before gently dissipating amongst thoughts of sherbet and cheese.
On a different tack with more minerality came the 2006 Redde Les Champs de Billons (Pouilly Fume) that was of interest as it showed a little diesel character on the nose and some classic (for me) Loire funk, a bit of gym shoes, but in a good way. The palate showed a lot of granadilla with a hard mineral edge, but at the same time a round almost soft mouthfeel.
“Like an MCC without the bubbles” was a comment I heard about the 2006 Redde Majorum (Pouilly Fume) and this sums it up quite cleverly. There was a mere suggestion of oak, a raised eyebrow of oak if you will, that gave a rich mouth feel. This was the most decadent Sauvignon Blanc for me, one of the few that would feel out of place at the beach. Its acidity not biting this time but still supportive and outlining the wine’s elegance.
And finally, although I could go on, was the 2006 Didier Dagueneau, Pur Sang (Pouilly Fume). Didier, God rest his soul, seems to be quite a legend of the Loire, and at dinner later I heard tales of him taking beautiful damsels up in Micro-Lites after a few bottles; irresponsible maybe (he did die in a crash) but doesn’t that sound like fun? Damsels, flying, wine? I’ll do it. Anyway, this wine was all gun smoke and flint with a juicy deep palate that spread out wide with a touch of milkyness. A shocking tasting note I know, but it was texture more than taste. When I battle to describe a wine I turn to women. This one was a pale milky skinned English girl from the Aristocracy, with a sharp tongue and a knife in her stiletto.
On the whole I was a little disappointed with these. Not because they were poor, but maybe because I have heard so much about them that I expected to be blown away. So I’ll take the blame for this one, I hope when I taste some more this experience will have calibrated my palate a little and I’ll be able to appreciate them better. Here were my top Kiwis:
The 2008 Ata Rangi (Martinborough) had a salty edge around a tight-nit nettly middle with some reserved (they have to be reserved) notes of tinned asparagus, and subtle hints of gooseberry. The balance in this wine made it stand out, the acidity tangy rather than tart and the flavours restrained rather than boisterous.
I enjoyed the Waipara Spring 2007 (Waipara Valley) quite a bit, a smart wine with a sour/rich scent that made me thing of overripe fruit which was undercut by a taught acidity and flinty characters. There was a granadilla flavour that had excellent length.
I know this is supposed to be a favourite list but those were the only two that really stood out for me. The Cloudy Bay 2009 (Marlborough) was disappointing, not having a knowledge of the wine other than what I have read this didn’t live up to the hype. It was a little limp-wristed on the palate and I found the acidity a little nasty, like a dirty hooker. The nose was the saving grace, like a fresh salad of rocket, lettuce and spinach, green fresh notes and a little salt. I really really liked the nose, but the palate was short, aggressive and forgettable.
We did well. Without talking about the Icon thrown into the mix, the Klein Constantia 1987 but I’m leaving that for a later description. Our wines showed poise and elegance that I found lacking in a lot of the Kiwi offerings.
The Klein Constantia Perdeblokke 2005 (Constantia) is aging beautifully and showed figs and grapefruit underneath a light blanket of tinned asparagus. The acidity was fresh and alive. There was a bit of sweaty character that added intrigue rather than revulsion. We really need to start drinking our Sauvignon Blancs later, this amongst others proved the point.
One of the two “pirates” that Jorg Pfutzner threw in for us was the Iona 2003 (Elgin) that was incredibly fresh for a 7 year old. It showed a spritely clean nettly character with a mineral edge that I have found in other Iona’s. As usual it was elegant and clean showing again how well our Sauvignon Blanc’s can age. I really loved this wine.
The Buitenverwachting 2009 (Constantia) was a cracker. Fresh and elegant with a grassy nettly nose and a hint of sea breeze. Balanced in-between the zesty refreshing acidity was a slightly tropical palate, think grape fruit and winter melon. The length was good as was the balance. It was also Mr. Pendock’s favourite SA White.
It wasn’t all plain sailing as there were one or two with some unpleasant bitter edges (especially from the Kiwis) and the weirdest one had to be the 2008 Groot Constantia’s Gouvernuers Sauvignon Blanc (Constantia) that had a turpine nose that had Mr. Pendock wondering if Jorg’s pirate was a Riesling. For me though, the problem was its overwhelming banana notes. Not fresh banana, but the smell and flavour of those little banana shaped sweets I had growing up. It was suggested that this could have been a fermentation problem. I don’t know, but I didn’t like it.
What Have I learnt from this smorgasbord of Sauvignons? Well first of all it seems that I am a big fan of the 2006 vintage from Pouilly Fume. It showed me how well our Sauvignon Blancs age; I hope to age as well as our Sauvignon Blancs, but with the amount that I drink of them I doubt this will be the case. I also realised how difficult it must be to taste for competitions. I am being diplomatic only because I am a relatively inexperienced wine taster. But I find it hard to believe how one can objectively score a hundred wines without over scoring the bigger wines over the more elegant understated ones. I found our third flight of wines particularly difficult. The wines started blending into each other and I had to force myself to rethink the wines to find the individuality.
A great experience indeed. And I didn’t even mention the 1998 Steenberg (Constantia) or the 1986 and 1987 Klein Constantia’s. I had the 1987 again over dinner at La Colombe (Jealous are you? Well I now have one kidney and owe my other to a Nigerian), more on that in part two.