Cape Town - If sauvignon blanc is beginning to pall and shiraz induces ennui, it’s time, perhaps, to turn to cultivars uncommon to the Cape.
Bit players in our vinous world, these grapes are often limited to providing complexity to blends. But when innovative winemakers let them star on their own, results can range from charming to exciting.
Let’s start with grenache blanc, an ancient Spanish variety widely planted in both France and Spain, described as a grape with the potential to produce a good-quality full-bodied wine.
That could serve as an understatement for KWV’s Mentors grenache blanc 2011, the second vintage of which is about to be released. The wine was made from a young vineyard in granite-based soil in the heart of Paarl, topped up with berries from another area, perhaps Piekenierskloof? Halfway through fermentation, a portion was transferred to second- and third-fill barrels, and later the tank-fermented 40 percent was blended back for freshness.
This is an impressive and elegant wine, savoury with spice and a mineral backbone that promises lasting potential. A mélange of muted fruit can be detected, especially on the nose. It will partner risottos and smoked seafood in style, but sip some solo to appreciate its multi-faceted attractions.
The Mentors range has been widely applauded, attracting a slew of local and international awards.
Now for a little nostalgia, nicely updated. Clairette blanche doesn’t even rate a mention in the current Platter under white grape varieties. But roll back to 1967 when AA Balkema published WA de Klerk’s The White Wines of South Africa – and we find a bunch of these grapes and glass of the same hold prime position on both dust jacket and title page. The writer talks of visiting the late Reg Nicholson at Schoongezicht,where he admired his famous Jersey herd.
Moving on to wine, both agreed on the desirability of delicacy in white wines, before sampling the new vintage of Schoongezicht, a riesling-clairette blanche blend.
It was, he reports, young, fresh, honest and “without frills”, reminiscent of the sorrel that covers the Boland soil after the first winter rains.
In 1983 this ancient Mediterranean grape occupied 3 600ha of Cape vineyard, described in South African Wine (Struik) as offering delicate fruitiness, with a tendency to oxidise, well-suited for sparkling wines and flowery, low-acid whites.
Andrea and Chris Mullineux found a single parcel of bushvine clairette blanche, at least 40 years old, growing in Paardeberg mountain granite. They took over management of the vines, harvested in February 2011, racking the additive-free juice to barrel and fermenting with indigenous yeast. I tasted a barrel sample eight months later, deciding that, while floral, this was not going to be an inconsequential white. It was bottled, sans filtering or fining, a year ago.
Neethlingshof launched its first wooded white at a function at Kirstenbosch recently, an apt venue for The Six Flowers, another label in winemaker De Wet Viljoen’s Short Story Collection range. He makes as good use of the estate’s picturesque past as he does of the six white cultivars that make up this blend, weaving true stories into his wine. Made up of 30 percent each of chenin and chardonnay, with 20 percent sauvignon blanc and 10 percent viognier, finished with a little gewürztraminer and riesling, this well-balanced floral offering is summer savvy, characterful and well priced at R80. - Weekend Argus