On April 10, 2010, the International Wine Review (IWR) in collaboration with Wine Concepts of the Newlands in Cape Town organized a blind tasting of Sauvignon Blanc from Chile and South Africa at The Boardroom in the beautiful Bistro 1682 at Steenberg Vineyards in Constantia, Cape Town. In recent years, these two countries have developed strong reputations for producing Sauvignon Blanc that is competitive in quality and price with that produced anywhere else in the world, including the Loire and New Zealand. Since most of the wines and most of the tasters were South African, the event was less a real Tasteoff and more an evaluation of South African Sauvignon Blanc. However, the tasting panel did reach consensus on its preferred wines, listed below.
The tasting panel was led by Mike Bampfield-Duggan (l) of Wine Concepts and Don Winkler (r) of the IWR. In the opinions of the tasting panel, many of the wines tasted were of exceptionally high quality, not surprising given that wines were selected for the tasting based on the previous, positive assessments of the wines by the organizers of the Tasteoff. We’ve grouped our preferred wines into three categories:  Best of Southern Hemisphere (with apologies to New Zealand),  Best Single Vineyard, Distinct Terroir and  Five Best South African Sauvignon Blanc.
BEST OF SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE
Two wines stood out as being particularly distinctive in terms of their overall complexity, balance, and interest. Interestingly, both wines are made by small wineries led by female winemakers sourcing fruit from especially cool climate vineyards. The two wines are:
Trizanne 2009 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon Elim, South Africa
This is a refined and elegant wine, superbly balanced with aromas and flavors of white melon and chalky minerals with other, light notes of wet wool and lemongrass. Its interestingly complexity comes from Sauvignon Blanc picked at various stages of ripeness and left sur lie for an extended time and from a small addition (15%) of Semillon. While the Semillon is wooded, no oak aromas or flavors are noticeable in the wine, but the Semillon does serve to soften the acidity and contribute lanolin to the mouthfeel. From maritime vineyards in Elim near Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa. Made by Trizanne Barnard, a much-traveled, young winemaker who has made wine in the Margaret River, Alsace, St. Estèphe, Rhone, and the Douro Valley.
This terroir-driven wine shows minerals and perfumed citrus with honeysuckle and chalk notes on the nose. This super refined and delicate wine is full-flavored, exhibiting beautiful balance and a chalky texture. From a very low-yielding hilltop vineyard of extremely poor soils located 4 km from the cold Pacific; strong winds serve to naturally keep yields low. Made by María Luz Marín, previously winemaker at Concha y Toro, and who blazed the trail for other female winemakers in Chile.
BEST SINGLE VINEYARD, DISTINCT TERROIR
Wines in this category show a real sense of where they come from. While most Chilean and South African Sauvignon Blanc reflect the broader regions they come from, the wines in this category offer something more specific coming from the terroir of the vineyard. Almost by definition, terroir-driven wines come from a single vineyard. We selected our favorites from the tasting.
Cono Sur 2008 Limited Edition 20 Barrels Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca
This wine is incredibly rich and lush on the palate with mineral laden ripe, grapefruit citrus and sweet melon fruit. Made from 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc aged in stainless steel. The fruit (clones 107, 242, 297) is from the upper slopes of El Centinela Vineyard in the coolest part of the Casablanca Valley just a few kilometers from the sea. The winemaker is Adolfo Hurtado.
Sourced from the small, biodynamic Uitzicht vineyard (South Africa’s one and only) with four clones on four different rootstocks. The minerality, muted lime citrus fruit, bracing but gentle acidity, and full texture are reminiscent of Sancerre or Monetou-Salon. This wine shows a real sense of place. Winemaker is Rudiger Gretschel.
FIVE BEST SOUTH AFRICAN SAUVIGNON BLANC WINES
There are in fact many exceptional South African Sauvignon Blancs. After all, it is one of the varietals that South Africa does best. But any group of tasters will have its favorites, and the following five wines were ours. Significantly, most of these wines came from the Darling/Durbanville area, known for that peculiar characteristic the Durbanville Dust.
Cape Point 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Limited Release [Woolworths] Noordhoek
Minerals and citrus fruit on the nose, a full, round palate showing tropical fruit with green bean and lime zest notes. Long, chalky finish. What’s not to like about this wine? There’s even a saline note, due perhaps to vineyards being almost within spitting distance of the gorgeous, wild Noordhoek beach. The winemaker is Duncan Savage.
Diemersdal Estate 2009 Sauvignon Blanc 8 Rows Durbanville
This is a beautifully balanced wine showing flinty minerality and lovely depth of flavor from a single 3.5 ha vineyard. There’s lemon sherbert, lychee, and light grass notes on the nose. The palate shows some tropical and chalky notes. This is a wine of real character that will be even better after another year in bottle. Thys Louw is winemaker.
Graham Beck 2009 Pheasant’s Run Sauvignon Blanc Darling
Very aromatic orchard fruit and green herb scents waft from the glass of this beautifully balanced wine sourced from selected parcels of very low yielding (42 hl/ha) mostly bush vines from a single vineyard in the Darling area. The vineyard is picked at three different times to give a mix of fruit of different ripeness and character. The palate shows minerals, gooseberry and tropical flavors. The cellarmaster is Pieter Ferreira; Erika Obermeyer (pictured here) makes the Sauvignon Blanc.
Groote Poste 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve Darling
Ripe green figs, herbs, and white asparagus show on the nose of this intensely flavorful wine. Minerals, nettles, and juicy tropical fruit all show on the lush palate. Made using clones 11 and 317 on 110 rootstock. Spends 3 months on the lees. Winemaker is Lukas Wentzel.
Maastricht 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Durbanville
This is a delightful wine from a new winery. There are notes of chalky minerals, flowers, and flint on the nose. The palate shows orchard fruit, mostly green apples with notes of rhubarb. It’s very fresh and elegant with a nice weighty mid-palate and persistent finish. The winemakers are Thys Louw (shown here, courtesy of Neil Pendock) and Mari van der Merwe.