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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 (article first published : 2004-10-10)

The sauvignon blanc grape was virtually unknown in South Africa 20 years ago. Today it produces more than 300 different white wines made at the Cape, and currently it seems to be flavour of the month, as the saying goes.

Its homeland is France but it has migrated well to California, Australia and New Zealand, especially the latter, which now turns out some of the finest sauvignons in the world. In South Africa the wide range available here obviously means a wide range in quality and price. The best are very fine indeed, and even the cheapest show one or more of the strong characteristics that distinguish sauvignon blanc. The descriptions often used are grassy, asparagus, gooseberries, pepper, flinty, figs, and the wine may range in style from ultra-dry to semi-sweet.

At the last meeting of our private tasting group Alf Sudheim, secretary/manager of the Durban Country Club, presented 11 sauvignon blancs of the new 2004 vintage, rather a long list really; palate fatigue was setting in by the time we reached the end and I think that some subtleties were evading us at that stage. Nevertheless we were discriminating enough to award, on the blind scoring basis, top marks to the most expensive wine and bottom marks to the least expensive.

Top scorer was the Steenberg Reserve from a premium cellar at Constantia. Previous vintages of sauvignon blanc from Steenberg have been awarded five stars in the John Platter Wine Guide, and this new vintage will probably do likewise. It has a fresh, crisp taste and a bouquet of grass, peppers and nettles, plus a long aftertaste. It is potent, 13.89 percent alcohol. And it is expensive, probably about R90 a bottle retail.

You could argue that the lowest scoring wine offered better value. This was the sauvignon from the Rooiberg Winery at Robertson. Rooiberg sauvignons usually score about three stars in the Platter guide and this 2004 vintage has an array of green pepper and fig flavours with a touch of tropical fruit, and a tangy dry finish. Price: about R24.

Second place in our scoring went to Morgenhof, the estate at Stellenbosch owned by Anne Cointreau-Huchon, whose grandfather founded the Remy Martin cognac house a long time ago. Morgenhof’s sauvignon blanc had a flinty bouquet and pineapple and kiwi fruit flavours, and was elegant and light in style. Retail price: about R48, not too bad for a wine of this quality.

Another sauvignon from Steenberg, this one made from a clone of the grape from the LoireValley in France, came third. It had a wide range of flavours, with green pepper dominant. Price about R65.

The picturesquely named Life From Stone wine from the Springfield estate at Robertson was placed fourth. It is so named because of the aggressively flinty nature of the soil in which the views grow, and one of its features is said to be gunsmoke. More familiar and identifiable, I hope, are the touches of gooseberry, pear and passion fruit in the flavour. About R50.

Other sauvignons tasted included L’Avenir, Mulderbosch, Villiera and Porcupine Ridge. All the wines tasted were of high quality, with no failures, and they provided evidence that Cape sauvignons can now compare with the best from elsewhere. – Michael Green




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