Blends every which way

So many other tasks get abandoned during Platter and this year another deadline loomed shortly afterwards; the recent silence is thus due to trying to catch up.
But back to work and a tasting with colleague Tim James of wines – some new, others just sent for a possible review – that made me think again about blends and how they aren’t limited to a mix of varieties.

Blends come in all shapes and sizes, so to speak.

For some, how they are labelled very much depends on the producer’s aim.
Take, for instance, Nitida Coronata Integration 2013 – one of this year’s RisCura Hot White Award winners and great value at R125 ex farm. In this mix of unwooded sauvignon blanc and oaked semillon, the Vellers are aiming for a wine where the blend is greater than the sum of its parts. As I wrote here, because the two varieties have similar fruit profiles, they blend very well and, in this case live up to the integration of the title; so well integrated, in fact, both Tim and I wonder how much more it can improve or age. We agree it’s exceptionally drinkable now, fresh but with polished edges, a lovely richness of feel with pure fruit of the tangerine peel, lemon grass and honey kind, all characteristics of its cool Durbanville climate. Very unlike the more austere style of Vergelegen, which needs a few years to get into its stride.

Shannon Sanctuary PeakShannon Sanctuary Peak Sauvignon Blanc 2014 is also a blend of unwooded sauvignon blanc with 11% wooded semillon, the latter here in essentially a silent partner, merely providing a little muscle. This is no flashy sauvignon; restraint with approachability sums up the Downes’ wine. It has that sense of aliveness that I associate with minerality; pleasing intensity and length too. This wine has changed over the years; I remember when Shannon was on my Platter list, James Downes was at pains to hold back the wine for a year before release, which it then needed. I guess with high demand, he has had to adapt the style with Nadia & Gordon Newton Johnson, who make the Shannon wines. It’s been achieved to great effect with every sip making the R105 asking price seem excellent value.

Of course, white blends of the multi-varietal type and featuring inter alia chenin blanc, viognier, clairette blanche, grenache blanc and roussanne, have helped put the Cape and the Swartland in particular on the international map. In truth, not many of this ilk that I’ve tasted have left me feeling disappointed, so it’s unfortunate that the new and pricey Avondale Cyclus 2012 (R225) fails to hit the mark with its promising list of components: viognier, chardonnay, roussanne, chenin blanc and semillon, all naturally fermented in 500 litre oak barrels. Yes, we notice viognier and a waxy finish but the parts just don’t hang together, let alone create something greater than their sum.

Ah, but perhaps we tasted it on a less than favourable day of the lunar calendar, something owner, Johnathan Grieve, is keen for the industry to follow. Of the four periods making up the calendar – root, fruit, leaf and flower – the last is considered the most favourable for wine tasting. So maybe Friday, 26th September was altogether the wrong day; if so, sorry Johnathan. Possibly the following two days as well? As I did keep trying it in the hope of a better result.

The wine was given the name Cyclus ‘because of the elegant way that Avondale’s unique life energy swirls through its invigorating layers.’ So now you know.

We liked the new Avondale Armilla MCC 2009 a good deal better, even though we tasted it the same day. There’s no accounting for these things. While it’s a straight chardonnay, left on the lees for five years, it also contains a small portion of wine from every previous vintage going back to 2003. So there’s another take on blending.

There’s a real creaminess cut by the attack of a fine, brisk bubble with a suggestion of the nutty character that develops in this style with age. A decent MCC, not at all austere but lacking in some of the complexity one would expect from a five year old, which makes the R198 price tag seem on the steep side.

Blends can be a difficult choice to make, especially if they are given a brand name – eg Palladius or Paul Sauer – rather than the more familiar varietal names of the grapes in them.

Surely this accounts, in part, for a successful 20 years of Haute Cabrière Chardonnay-Pinot Noir 2014 (R85) and likely will do for the new Graham Beck Gorgeous, Pinot Noir-Chardonnay 2014 (R60 ex cellar). As I wrote here, both are technically and visibly rosés, but by labelling them with the two great Champagne grapes makes them sound so much more desirable. The gentle flavours and smooth Cabrière is drinkable if without distinction, but I personally prefer the Beck with its stronger red grape flavour and firm, fresh profile; a good all-round food style. Pricewise and weighing in at only 11.25% alcohol, I’d be happy to have it as a lunchtime wine. Tim was less enthusiastic, saying there are many better rosés, a view with which I agree, so my caveat would be if such rosés weren’t on the wine list.

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