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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES #197 (article first published : 2008-06-2)

The various types of white wines have distinctive features: for example, chardonnay --- lemony, citrus character; sauvignon blanc --- grassy, herbaceous, gooseberry; chenin blanc – fruity, melon, peach, honey. It’s quite easy to tell one from another.

Is it really so easy? I have long maintained that when wines are of high quality it is more difficult, not easier, to sort out their categories when tasting blind (without seeing the bottle). And so it proved when I offered seven South African white wines, all different, to a group of experienced tasters.

The wines were all graded three and a half to four and a half stars (out of five) in the well-known Platter’s Wine Guide, and the best anybody could do (just one person) was to identify correctly three out of the seven. Don’t sneer, the task was by no means as simple as it sounds. The wines, in order of serving, with the brief descriptions (from the Platter book) made available to the tasters, were:

Chardonnay, wooded: Klein Constantia 2007, macadamia nut, straw and lime flavours, with creamy oak, price R65;

Chardonnay, unwooded: Danie de Wet Limestone Hill 2007, orange blossom, lemon and lime character, minerally finish, R50;

Chenin blanc: Ken Forrester 2007, honeyed notes, apple flavours, piercing lime acidity, R55;

Sauvignon blanc: Mulderbosch 2007, steely promise, minerally, R80;

Semillon: Nitida 2006, crunchy honey with deep sweetish citrus, green apples and pears, R65;

Viognier: Zonnebloem 2007, apricot, litchi, fruit kernel, R40;

Blended wine: Jordan Chameleon sauvignon blanc-chardonnay 2006, tense sauvignon tempered by leesy chardonnay adding fruit weight, R50.

The tasters assessed the wines blind, and average scores ranged from 17 (out of 20) to 14, with first place being shared by the Mulderbosch sauvignon blanc and the Jordan Chameleon blend, with the Nitida semillon, a prize-winning wine from the Durbanville area, close behind.

On occasions like these the person pouring the wine cannot, of course, participate in the tasting, but he or she has a lot of fun all the same, listening to the comments of the others as they try to guess what is what. “I don’t like oak-matured chardonnay – it’s the oak that has given chardonnay a bad name”, said one, while completely misguessing which was a chardonnay, wooded or unwooded. (I didn’t know that chardonnay, which produces great white wines in many parts of the world, had a bad name).

“This one shouts sauvignon blanc at you”, said another, while tasting the chenin blanc.

It’s best not to be dogmatic about wine. Remember, a closed mouth gathers no foot. – Michael Green




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