Marriage is a partnership of give and take; in a successful marriage, the give and take are shared, compatible harmony achieved by neither party taking nor giving all. The same applies in white and red blends.
If any partnership illustrates a perfect give and take scenario, it’s sauvignon blanc and semillon. A tasting across multiple vintages demonstrates the partnership in action, as just such a line-up of Constantia Glen Two proved.
First made in 2011, the wine has been more-or-less a 70%/30% sauvignon/semillon split, apart from that first one where semillon made up 40%. To date, the semillon – clone GD1 for the geeks – has come from one block; three years ago, another was planted but has yet to be incorporated in the blend.
Where changes have been made is in fermentation vessels, which as we know today have an important effect on texture. In 2017 clay amphora was used for 5% of the blend. As at many other wineries, new oak has been toned down; it now hovers between 20% and 25%, French Acacia and Austrian oak the wood of choice. I’m happy to say it does make a very happy ménage à trois with the wine.
How does the give and take work in practice?
We tasted from oldest to youngest, often the easiest way for the palate to adjust, the older wines better settled and harmonised, the youngsters – especially with sauvignon – usually edgy and provocative.
Semillon fans, 2011 is right in your court. It is certainly on the take end of the spectrum, providing waves of heavy silk breadth before sauvignon gives a brightness to the tail, as it should. For Hunter Valley Semillon fans, the toasty, leesy notes reminded me of these Aussie wonders rather than what one might expect from 40% new oak.
If the older wines have an anticipated maturity, the colours have remained brilliant and youthful, as I hope the two photos illustrate. This is cool climate Constantia, where analyses for this style of wine are the stuff of which dreams are made (low pH levels, 3.1-3.3, intensifying acids hovering around 6.3-6.9 g/l) without any sense of imbalance, even taking into account a totally dry finish and later harvest than most other areas, which causes many chewed nails. Constantia Glen winemaker, Justin van Wyk will be starting his 2021 harvest in earnest only this coming Monday, 1st March. Across the winelands, harvest seems to be 10 days to two weeks later than usual.
One might expect Semillon to remain on the take for close to half of the 11 wines, as that is how the pair work; sauvignon leading in youth and providing freshness as semillon blossoms with age. Then comes 2012, lighter and fresher than its older sibling, sauvignon still holding sway with its tropical, peach and herb tang but not completely blunting its partner which adds valuable base notes. Ah well, there are always exceptions.
A happy partnership doesn’t rule out vintage difference, thank goodness; 2013 is a marriage of like minds totally in synch; harmony, richness and tension all in an elegant wrapping. A great example for anyone wondering what the style is all about. The younger 2016 isn’t far off; it’s full of life, expressive of both varieties with a lick of spicy oak egging on sauvignon’s herby tang.
2014, a lesser vintage which seems flat, best drink up, and 2015, which suffered from premature oxidation led to the youngest four and sauvignon’s turn to flaunt its youthful strength.
Sauvignon remains the punters’ favourite; 2018 and the newly-released 2019, as young as they are should appeal to them. As a semillon fan, I’d have patience, as I can find it in the depths of the older wine; both promise happy maturity.
This leaves 2017, my favourite: focus on texture – silky waves coating the mouth yet never heavy – the flavours savoury with an earthy note from semillon’s natural ferment, delivered with restraint. This is a love-affair worthy of Anthony and Cleopatra, with a happy ending many years down the line. The vintage plays an important role, as it does with so many others from this classic year.
For the quality and consistency – despite a few quibbles and the pre-mox problem with 2015 – these are all well-made. The R290 price tag is not unreasonable. Such an enjoyable, informative few hours of a wine which is the farm’s slowest seller. A sad story of such a happy marriage.