Family, friends and colleagues know about my passion for the Rhône and its beautiful red wines. Those elegant, yet lively blends of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Viognier… Having said that, few things are more rewarding than a beautiful refreshing glass of white wine on a hot summer’s day.
And with the summer holidays starting in South Africa and Christmas around the corner, we are all planning our menus and stocking up on wines for all kinds of occasions – light alfresco lunches, sundowners on the stoep, dinner parties and that extra something to serve with a late-night cheese platter.
An article on South African white blends in yesterday’s Drinks Business as well as a recent feature by Tim Atkin made me think about the versatility of South African white wines. Perhaps a selection of a few whites can actually take you from that luncheon under the trees to the midnight cheese course!
Often known in the international market (especially the UK retail) as fresh and fruity easy-drinkers and loss-leaders, South African white wine traditionally have found it difficult to make inroads into the premium price categories. And then when it comes to the more complex of styles – barrel matured wines and interesting blends – South Africa might be making some exceptional examples (do read what some other SA winemakers have to say), but are we selling them?
Single varietal white wines (in general made in an aperitif-style) seem to still be the favourite by far when it comes to South African domestic sales. It might also be because cheaper white wines such as Chenin Blanc / Colombard blends have created a perception that single varietals are more premium. In fact, some blended wines still omit the fact on their labels. (In South Africa, blending partners of less than 15% need not be mentioned on the label). According to SAWIS figures, single-varietal Sauvignon Blanc is still the best performing white wine in the South African market.
For those in the know, South African white blends might therefore be exceptional and a beautiful expressions of their terroir, but the perception in the wider market can be quite different. While some blended whites with very limited production have managed to gain an almost cult-following, selling on allocation and at super premium prices, there is still a challenge in the volume markets.
I do appreciate a beautiful white blend, but when it comes to market access perhaps it is about introducing a more serious style of white, rather than trying to force the blend issue. Whether a single cultivar such as a complex Chardonnay or one of the fashionable white blends (Sauvignon Blanc / Semillion or Chenin Blanc / Grenache Blanc / Viognier / Marsanne / Roussanne), having a white alternative as a pairing to something more than salads and seafood, will bring an interesting dimension to the enjoyment of food and wine in South Africa and I think we should start encouraging it straight away!