South African Sauvignon Blanc at 10 years old: does it age?

What do travelling wine writer geeks do on a day free from events? Taste more wines of course. South African all star somm / importer / winemaker Chris Groenwald popped by our Hermanus home base with a blind tasting lineup. All we knew is that they were same grape, same vintage, which turned out to be South African Sauvignon Blanc from 2012. It was so interesting to try these wines a decade along, all showing some cusping with age, yet holding onto their fine buzzy acid line. None were past due at all, and most impressed greatly. The majority of South African Sauvignon will be drunk early in life, so we well know this was quite a niche exercise. However, the results prove that more smart examples should be cellared.

This green-skinned Sauvignon Blanc most likely hails from France’s Loire Valley, where it can blindingly shine in the Kimmeridgian limestone and Silex flint. In South Africa it is the second most planted white grape after Chenin Blanc, with 9878 hectares reported in 2021, predominantly in Stellenbosch (26%), Robertson (16%), and Breedekloof (14%). There is an impressive 2250 hectares of vines 20+ years old, and 2737 hectares in the 16-20 years range.

The highly vigorous grape is widely adaptable, spreading as easily worldwide as its tangled and aggressive foliage. All things green are its hallmark: grass, hedge, meadow, white asparagus, kiwi, gooseberries, as well as passionfruit and elderflower in slightly warmer climates. Crisp, piercing acidity permeates all wines, save for those harvested in the hottest regions, and helps preserve freshness and zest in late harvest or oaked examples. Profound soil types like shale and granite can easily lend flinty, slatey character to the wines, which often emerges more with age, as in the six examples below. Notes by Treve Ring (TR) and Jamie Goode (JG)

Diemersdal Eight Rows Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Durbanville
Bold, crystalline and intense with honey, lime and a twist of butterscotch. The palate has power and depth with bold citrus fruit and a touch of peachy richness. There’s keen acidity here, with some savoury notes on the finish, and lots of toast. 92/100 (JG)

Honeyed gold hue, lead by ash, honeycomb, flake salts over crushed stones, with the pear / peach fruit an afterthought. Lovely length and depth on this toasty, savoury wine. This had me questioning aged Chenin Blanc, though the acidity wasn’t firm enough. 92/100 (TR)

Hermit on the Hill The Infadel Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Stellenbosch
Nice power and precision here with some richness. There’s a touch of honeyed richness, some apple and ripe pear fruit, and citrus on the finish with a hint of cabbage, wax and straw. Bold, with freshness and a mineral twist on the finish. 93/100 (JG)

Quite profound, with a grippy frame strung with earthy, savoury wild herbs over a lovely waxen mouthfeel. The savoury finish lingers with medicinal white cherry. 92/100 (TR)

Lomond Sugarbush Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Cape Agulhas
Lively and bright with citrus and pear, as well as some mineral notes and keen acidity. Has some mandarin. Nice intensity here, with a tapering finish. Has some power and intensity, finishing fresh and pithy. 91/100 (JG)

Tight and lean, with a tension stringing lemon, tangerine, meadow herbs and broken stones, through the saline finish. This was distinctly Sauvignon to me. 90/100 (TR)

Cape Point Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2012, Cape Point
Very toasty and rich on the nose with some apricot, wax and honey. The palate is bold and rich with sweet, spicy, nutty citrus fruit and lots of apricot and ripe pear. Showing lots of development and real complexity. 93/100 (JG)

This golden hued white had a sweeter honeycomb nose, leading to dried apricot, pear skin, ash on the powerful, honey sheathed palate. Acidity dropping off some, though layers of complexity remain. 91/100 (TR)

Klein Zalze Family Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Western Cape
Spice, toast and intense citrus fruit here with some appley richness and a touch of peach. Shows good acidity with nice focus to the palate. Fine, spicy and citrussy, showing lovely depth. Developed but still lively. 94/100 (JG)

Golden hue, with alluring savoury white truffle infiltrating wild pear, subtle honey, river stones, with a lick of mint on the saline finish. Impressive. 93.100 (TR)

Boschendal Appellation Series Elgin Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Elgin
Toast, nuts and spice with keen acidity and developed pear and citrus fruit. Crystalline and pure with high acidity. So crystalline and precise with nice density. 92/100 (JG)

Golden hued, this big and powerful white showing reduction, toast and brown butter with a waxen sheen to the palate and big flake salts on the finish. Impressive presence and length. 93/100 (TR)

Treve Ring

Treve Ring is a wine writer and editor, judge and speaker, and perpetual traveller. [She is also Correspondent Anorak.]