Wine Spectator yesterday reported about a vessel sinking with a few containers of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc aboard and commented tongue-in-cheek on how the Sauvignon Blanc with screwcap closures would mature underwater, given the latest tad of cellaring wines under the sea.
While screwcaps and salt water might not be the ideal combination when maturing wine, the story made me think about the maturation potential of Sauvignon Blanc and even more than that – the different opinions on the subject!
Jancis Robinson explains why more than for other varieties, perhaps the opinions on Sauvignon Blanc and its maturation always get people talking. “Sauvignon Blanc is a strange grape. It evokes strong reactions. Those who love it, love it with a passion. Those who find its flavours less than subtle, tend to be less than subtle in their criticism of it.”
And on maturing Sauvignon Blanc, her opinion is: “I have tasted Sauvignon Blanc that has survived more than five years in bottle but hardly any that have actually improved as a result.” She does exclude one “rare example” of a Sauvignon Blanc that stood the test of the time, being Chateau Couhins-Lurton.
South Africa’s, Michael Fridjhon couldn’t disagree more “It is one of the abiding myths of Cape wine that Sauvignon Blanc must be consumed within the year of its production. This is hardly ever true and there hasn’t been a time in the modern history of South African wine when it has been even vaguely applicable to the quality producers. To the extent that it may even function as a guideline, it applies to the nastiest cuvées blended for the supermarket trade using the juice from overcropped, irrigated vineyards in regions too warm to produce quality Sauvignon Blanc.”
He goes on to say that consumers now believe that Sauvignon Blanc regardless of the style or quality should be enjoyed young.
But what is regarded as matured? Jancis Robinson refers to Sauvignon Blanc of about five years, but in South African terms that would already be deemed a very matured wine. Here general perception would be that a Sauvignon Blanc of two years is already matured.
I definitely believe that Sauvignon Blanc can mature beautifully and develop in the bottle. It can be much more than a fresh aperitif-style wine, it can also be a complex and integrated food-friendly wine. I have tasted many examples of beautifully matured Sauvignons.
Although nowadays in South Africa there is a stronger emphasis on growing cultivars in terroir suitable to them, traditionally we find most varieties growing in all the areas, regardless of whether the climate and soil are ideal. And that makes a big difference. Sauvignon Blanc grown in a warm area that requires irrigation and has a high yield will differ in many ways to those grown in colder coastal climates with cooling afternoon breezes and low yields.
On South Africa, Jancis Robinson says: “but the vines are obviously very much at home here, particularly in the cooler coastal Overberg region, and the resulting wines can offer an attractively smoky halfway house between New Zealand and the Loire.”
In South Africa we can make lovely Sauvignon Blanc – that is not in question – and your opinion on its maturation potential probably depends on:
what you consider as matured – is a Sauvignon Blanc matured after one year or five years? I think it is better to keep on tasting until you think the wine has reached its peak, but be guided by the origin of the grapes.
your palate. Some of us prefer crisp, fresh and fruity and other enjoy the integrated complexities added by bottle maturation.
What is important is not to dismiss Sauvignon Blanc as a wine only performing in its first year.
We produce various styles of Sauvignon Blanc – some easy-drinking styles for supermarkets and a limited production from a very special organically grown vineyard in Walker Bay. They have different attributes and serve different purposes. The latter matures magnificently and there are many other South African examples that do as well. With Sauvignon Blanc, I find it no surprise then as with other varietals, that it is the terroir and the style of the wine that affect the maturation potential rather than the inherent qualities of the variety.
On a cold and wet winter’s day like today, I will definitely settle for a well-matured Sauvignon Blanc, a beautiful partner to the right dish. Let’s keep the fresh and fruity style for February’s heat.