Mixing it up

Monday, 16 September, 2013
Fiona McDonald
The news that South African producers took four International Trophies at the Decanter World Wine Awards has provided a welcome boost for an industry in need of some positive input. This is a remarkable achievement in view of the fact that only 32 International Trophies are awarded overall – from a catchment pool of 14 382 entries.
Boschendal Reserve Collection Shiraz 2011 (Red Rhône varietal under £15), David Niewoudt Ghost Corner Sauvignon Blanc (Sauvignon Blanc over £15), Cape Point Vineyards Isleidh (White blend over £15) and Paul Cluver Gewürztraminer 2012 (Dry aromatic under £15) were the wines which took top honours against the best in the world.

The significance of the Cape Point Vineyards’ success cannot be over-emphasised because this is an area where many believe that South Africa has a real chance to be a world beater. This was emphasised at the recent Great White tasting held at Allée Bleue. Addressing the 60 winemakers present, Cathy van Zyl read an excerpt from a report by fellow Master of Wine Adrian Garforth who visited South Africa for Cape Wine 2012 as part of an MW delegation.

“I have always viewed the South African industry as being on a constant voyage of discovery and have been fortunate enough to experience many of the changes first hand. Some of the wines from the 1970s were truly exceptional and given the lack of external input into the industry at this time, it was a testament to the great terroir that undoubtedly exists.”

Furthermore, he sketched some of the changes that had taken place before finally concluding that “the little gems that have emerged… just goes to show that you can’t keep a great quality story quiet provided there are enough enlightened individuals prepared to take a chance and sing the same quality song.”

In a nutshell, this is what producers of white blends are doing. Countries which succeed on the international stage are doing so with a unique message. Van Zyl pointed to Australia’s reinvention of Riesling and Shiraz, New Zealand making its mark with Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, Argentina with Malbec and Chile with Merlot. The international recognition for the quality of South African white blends is increasing steadily, particularly when the blends have old vine Chenin Blanc or Semillon at their core.

One of the interesting statistics she mentioned was that a scant 3% of wine selling through retail in the all-important UK market is above the £8 mark! The average retail price per bottle of wine is now £5.04. In comparison, the on-trade average is £17.05. There has long been an acknowledgement that white blends are a hand-sell – and nowhere is this easier than in a restaurant setting with a trained professional making a recommendation.

One of the most passionate advocates of this growing category is Chris Alheit of Alheit Vineyards which announced its debut on the local wine scene in 2012 with the Platter 5 Star Cartology, a blend of old vine Chenin Blanc from five disparate sites livened with a dash of venerable Semillon.

He pointed out that grapes such as Semillon, Chenin Blanc and Palomino had formed the backbone of the South African industry for hundreds of years. “Nowhere else in the world do they have access to the old Chenin and Semillon vines that we have. We have a unique opportunity to make wines genuinely authentic and reflective of our soils, heritage and winemaking.”

Mulderbosch winemaker Adam Mason was wearing his Yardstick Wines hat (a brand he co-owns with chef Peter Templehoff) when he said the benefits of white blends were almost too numerous to mention. “South Africa is suited to white wine production. We can get white varieties off early and not be too badly affected by the climatic conditions.”

Someone who has beaten the white blend drum for years is Ian Naudé of Adoro. “Our unbelievable diversity of terroir can be showcased to best effect when it comes to the blending of whites. Not just the grapes, but the places and the soils. To me, showing the terroir aspect of white blends is absolutely vital and is something I constantly strive to achieve.”