Homework

It’s no secret that one of my favourite wine styles is the dry white Bordeaux blend; in those originals from the south west area of France (as opposed to our Bordeaux-style white blend) the wines mix sauvignon blanc and semillon with muscadelle (not the same variety as our muscadel) also permitted. There are a few straight sauvignons and semillons, but the majority are blends.

Despite the quality, ageability and price of the best, mainly from the Pessac-Léognan AOC, the wines remain very much niche.

One might expect the same situation here, given we tend to favour the classic wine areas which have a wide following. If the number of entries – I believe there were in the region of 51- for the Riscara White Hot wine Awards is anything to go by, the style is far from niche. And there will be even more listed in Platter.

The Awards focuson this blend, with either sauvignon or semillon the dominant partner, and the top three are to be announced tomorrow. Although many wines labelled sauvignon blanc include a small dollop of semillon, the competition was limited to those marketed as a blend.

I’ll go into more detail once I know which wines Christian Eedes and his co-judges, James Pietersen and Roland Peens, have selected but one of the major attractions of the ‘made-to-seriously age’ styles is how they blossom with several years in the bottle. As youths, they can be pimply and shy, to coin a phrase, but it is with time that the full textural spread of semillon is displayed and kept aloft by sauvignon’s natural freshness. They are less about fruit than structure and texture.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some acknowledged white Bordeaux-style giants don’t make it to the final three simply because they are too young. On the other hand, those which show more fruit may well shine. That’s not to say these won’t benefit from age, but I had an interesting experience with the following two wines I pulled from the cellar to remind myself what does happen a few years down the line and in anticipation of tomorrow’s event.

SABdxwhitesVergelegen and Cape Point Vineyards were among the early producers to take these blends seriously: Andre van Rensburg’s first vintage was in 2001; Duncan Savage followed with the maiden CPV Isliedh in 2004. I’ve been buying both down the vintages, and enjoying them with several years under their respective belts. For no other reason that the bottles were easy to reach, 2007 was the vintage I opened.

It was a year where the traditional harvest heatwave was sandwiched by cooler weather and a couple of rain showers in March. I see I wrote sauvignon and semillon are white stars of the vintage.

Isliedh went on to get a Platter five star rating, being described in the guide as ‘forward-fruited (78% sauvignon shows) .. tight in youth but powerful and generous lingering intensity. .. Savour for 5+ years.’

André’s wine, a 75/25 blend, unfortunately didn’t get the nod (I was the Vergelegen taster that year), but I did note that it’s ‘still tight & powered by sauv, sem’s oak-spiced rich vinosity more evident on nose.’ I reckoned on more complex evolution over 8 – 10 years.

Six years down the line, that ‘forward-fruitedness’ in Duncan’s blend still holds sway but now with rather too much older sauvignon green bean character, something that develops in cooler years. The semillon does provide some weight, but isn’t a sufficient match for the sauvignon. An enjoyable drink but not with the fantastic complexity found in some other vintages. I know Duncan has changed his approach in subsequent vintages to a less obviously fruity style.

On the other hand, the partners in Andre’s very similar blend have marched in tune down the years; it won the Museum Class trophy for best white blend at last year’s Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show and I wrote the following at the vertical held last year at Vergelegen: ‘Beautifully translucent pale lemon; perfumed honey, lemon grass aromas with depth. Silky wraparound texture with precise acid thread giving some austerity, also vitality and length. At least 5-6 years growth potential.’ It did take three bottles to find this beauty; fortunately the first I opened yesterday did the business as per my note.

Will one or both of these fine winemakers take two of the top three in the Riscura White Hot awards; and who will be the third?

All to be revealed tomorrow!

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