I AM standing at Cape Point Vineyards, in South Africa’s newest and most exposed maritime vineyard, on a sunny ridge overlooking Long Beach at the foot of dramatic Chapman’s Peak.
Fierce winds are lashing up the Cape peninsula from Cape Point.
Surfer/winemaker Duncan Savage looks as windblown as his vines. “The grape that really works here is sauvignon blanc,” he says. “It’s an upright vine, that doesn’t mind wind. I have pulled out pinot noir and most of the chardonnay to concentrate on making minerally, salty, focused sauvignon blanc here,” says Savage.
Everyone seems to be mad about sauvignon blanc in South Africa today, but few are making anything as interesting as Savage. I visited 14 wine estates in South Africa – across the regions from Cape Point, Constantia and Stellenbosch to Walker Bay, Elgin and Robertson. Of those I tasted, the best sauvignon blancs were from Cape Point Vineyards, Buitenverwachting in Constantia, Tokara in Stellenbosch and Springfield in Robertson.
To my surprise, I was more impressed with the Cape’s chardonnays. All my favourite chardonnays came from well-known estates: Hamilton Russell in Hemel en Aarde Valley, Rustenberg in Stellenbosch and Springfield in Robertson. With one exception – the startlingly good newcomer, Cape Chamonix, made by Gottfried Mocke.
Mocke’s chardonnays are not flabby or over oaked. “The key is to plant for soil, not climate,” says Mocke. His chardonnays have citric depth, intensity, a touch of austerity, but are beautifully balanced. Mocke is also exploring different methods: he matures in concrete eggs as well as oak. At Hamilton Russell in Walker Bay and Lammershoek in Swartland, I also saw lines of stoneware amphorae and concrete eggs.
Pure varietal quality chenin blanc now seems thinner on the ground. The best are emerging from the hotter slopes of Swartland, northeast of Cape Town, from a varied patchwork of granite and schist soils: a hotbed of experimentation with Craig Hawkins at Lammershoek, Eben Sadie at Sadie Family, Adi Badenhorst at AA Badenhorst in Perdeberg and Chris Mullineux in Riebeek-Kastel.
Another region to watch is higher-altitude Citrusdal, best known for its citrus fruits and rooibos tea. “Rhône grapes like grenache blanc grow so well in Citrusdal on the sandy soils; it reminds us of the Languedoc,” says Marc Kent and Jean Smit of Boekenhoutskloof. Look out for Cederberg and Tierhoek wineries.
By far the most exciting Cape whites today are the new ‘Mediterranean whites’ – with chenin blanc blended alongside Rhône grapes like grenache blanc or clairette blanc.
Miles Mossop of Tokara is probably the greatest ‘Mediterranean blend’ guru. His own label Saskia, named after his daughter, is a sensational blend of chenin blanc for acidity, viognier for aroma, clairette blanc for texture and verdelho for weight. This is definitely the future of exciting Cape whites.
CAPE POINT VINEYARDS SAUVIGNON BLANC RESERVE 2012 (£22.95, Swig, www.swig.co.uk)
Very classy sauvignon with 13 per cent semillon matured in large oak so little obvious oak; with salty, maritime, minerally feel to the palate.
SPRINGFIELD SAUVIGNON BLANC SPECIAL CUVEE 2013 (£12.49, Majestic Wine)
Intense, creamy, rich, but not heavy; better than their Life from Stone sauvignon. Well priced too.
BUITENVERWACHTING HUSSEY’S VLEI SAUVIGNON BLANC 2013 (£12.50, Swig)
Named after previous owner Clara Hussey, this single vineyard sauvignon is Buiten’s best. Herby, vibrant, juicy, textural palate with steely undertones and long length.
HAMILTON RUSSELL CHARDONNAY 2012 (£22, Villeneuve Wines, Edinburgh; SA Wines, www.sawinesonline.co.uk)
A fine balance between richness and sleek elegance from this chardonnay specialist; the most Burgundian and elegant of all the chardonnays we tasted.
SPRINGFIELD METHODE ANCIENNE CHARDONNAY 2009 (£19.95, Emperor Wines, www.empwines.com; Bibendum Wines)
Rich, exotic, spicy, well-balanced oak, substantial fruit on palate, attractively mature – just superbly made.
CAPE CHAMONIX CHARDONNAY RESERVE(£14.95-£17, The Wine Society, www.thewinesociety.com; Raeburn Wines, Edinburgh; Berry Bros; Swig; SA Wines; Emperor Wines)
Rich, intense with citric depth; vinified in 70 per cent new oak, but very subtle: could be even better with a year or two in bottle. Well priced too.
Semillon BOEKENHOUTSKLOOF SEMILLON 2011 (£18, The Wine Society; Swig; Champany Inn wine shop, Linlithgow)
Outstanding example of semillon; keep this in the cellar for five years to appreciate its mellow, honeyed, waxy notes at its best.
Mediterranean Blends SASKIA 2011 Miles Mossop (£18, Swig; SA Wines)
Stunning, lush, multi-grape (chenin blanc/viognier/clairette/verdelho), multi-region blend; grilled pineapple notes, creamy, textural, toasty; very fine. STAR BUY
Earthy, savoury, honey and ginger notes with lovely rounded finish; fascinating organic blend of chenin blanc, viognier, chardonnay and clairette.
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