Quo Vadis SA Sauvignon Blanc?

Emile Joubert, the Ernest Hemingway of hedonism, interviewed me in Die Burger yesterday.  We focused on Sauvignon Blanc and the recent Concours Mondial du Sauvignon.

page0002 231x300 Quo Vadis SA Sauvignon Blanc? Q: What was the competition called, where was it held?

A: Concours Mondial du Sauvignon, held at Planete Bordeaux in Beychac et Caillau, a tiny village outside Bordeaux.

Q: How many judges? How did the panels work ?

A: 9 panels of 5/6 judges each total judges around 50.  My panel included the head of the Austrian wine institute in Vienna, a winemaker/marketer from NZ and two French wine officials.

Q: Number of wines tasted?

A: 666 entered; each panel tasted around 80 over 2 days.  Important point – there was a workshop the day before judging led by UK wino David Cobbold who lives in France.  Wines from around the world were presented and criteria were discussed.  This is vital if you want results that make sense and agree between panels otherwise it’s the Tower of Babel.  This is the first time I’ve seen this done in two decades of judging wine in SA and overseas – no wonder most results are contradictory!

Q: Besides usual suspects – NZ, France, SA, Chile, where are interesting SBs coming from? What makes these interesting?

A: Italy – very rustic style; Spain – very versatile when matched with food (blood pudding, fried pigs ears).  Huge differences in style between the various appellations in France: Sancerre vs. Bordeaux vs. Touraine etc.

Q: NZ pioneered the New World SB revolution. Are its wines still impressive in an outstanding way?

A: Very much so, especially sensitive use of barrel fermentation and ageing.  Apart from Cloudy Bay, these wines are almost unknown in SA but v. popular in UK, USA etc.

Q: You mentioned your love of French styles. Describe them?

A: It’s all about balance – not too acidic, not too alcoholic, not too green.

Q: Do you think the trend is more delicate, mineral compared to cat piss and peas?

A: Very much so.  It’s all about the harmony you get from an orchestra rather than an assault on the senses from Die Antwoord.

Q: Where does this leave SA?

A: We desperately need to have SA winemakers taste the styles of Sauvignon popular overseas if we wish to export successfully.

Q: Is SA too one-dimensional?

A: Some fine wines (Cederberg, Kleine Zalze) but problems with acidity, high alcohol, residual sugar and even fizzyness in some entries.

Q: Why is SB such a popular variety among local consumers?

A: Because there are a couple of well-defined styles (asparagus, tropical fruit, flinty) that consumers can identify with; when young it tastes great and is a good match with seafood and Asian food which is becoming more and more popular.

Q: Does good SB require a cool climate?

A: The best certainly benefit from the longer hang-times you get in cool climate appellations and lower alcohols but smart viti- and vini-culture can still make acceptable wine in warmer appellations.

Q: What, in your opinion, are the white varieties SA terroir lends itself best to?

A: Chenin Blanc is undoubtedly the jewel in the SA vinous crown – we have ancient bush vines providing brilliant fruit and some SA winemakers have mastered the varietal and make wines with character.

Q: Any final comments?

A: If SA wants to make world-class SB it needs to update the national cellar palate.  Rather than frittering away the annual R35 million budget for promoting SA wine overseas, WOSA should fund SA winemakers and students in their final year of their winemaking studies on study tours to Sancerre, New Zealand, Touraine, Chile, Bordeaux to see what the competition is up to.  The same applies to the other cultivars.  Rather than importing wine luvvies, bloggers and journalists without columns, WOSA should be bringing experts like Professor Denis Dubordieu to SA to lead workshops on styles and how to make world class SB.  This is the best way to promote SB overseas – to give foreign consumers what they want.  After all, the customer is always right.