What I Drank Last Night
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David Nieuwoudt Ghost Corner Semillon 2008

Surprise, surprise.

“I know that I know nothing” goes the Socratic Paradox and nothing confirms that better than a life spent critiquing wine. No sooner had I professed that Semillon presents better when blended with Sauvignon Blanc (see here), then I encountered a really captivating single-variety example.

The wine in question? The 2008 under the David Nieuwoudt Ghost Corner label. From Elim grapes, 30% was fermented and matured for four months in 300-litre, French oak barrels. My anxiety prior to opening it was that it would show an excessive pyrazine character but while there was some of this, it seemed integral to the wine – some gravel road dustiness and fynbos on the nose, a little paprika bite on the finish. Lots of pure fruit (predominantly green pepper and green plum), bright acidity and the astute use of oak lending some weight, the time on lees some secondary character. Delicious. Score: 17/20.

Comments

  1. Kwispedoor says:

    Yeah – pyrazine character at the expense of all else is simply bad winemaking, without regard for balance or complexity. I’ve found though, that some wine lovers will never like a wine or give it a high score if they get any semblance of pyrazine character on a it at all. To me, that also displays a lack of balance… There are some excellent, balanced, complex, pyrazine-dominated wines out there and they specifically have a tendency to get better with age. It’s a well-debated (perhaps over-debated) topic, but the point is that we tend to go overboard with many new developments in this country, like the over-wooded Chardonnays of yesteryear and the over-ripe, over-extracted reds we made after coming out of isolation (we still suffer from the continuing legacy of that one). Likewise, the move from pyrazine obsession to pyrazine aversion. Different likes and tastes from different people is not to be debated – it’s what makes life colourful – but one might hope that more winemakers and industry commentators would put a higher price on balance than the general evidence seem to suggest. 

  2. Hi Kwispedoor, LePlonk, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: pyrazines came into fashion on local Sauvignon in the mid-2000s because such wines at least tasted of something rather than nothing at all. Going forward, the challenge must surely be to achieve balance and synergy between all flavour compounds. What was remarkable about the Ghost Corner Sem 08 was that it had complexity and not just pyrazine character at the expense of all else.

  3. I agree 100% with the Kwise one.

    The pyrazine content of Sem and SB in cold climate wines tends to be astronomically higher than in warm ones (avg of around 12 ng/L in cold climes vs 1 in hot). It’s only really by harvesting extremely late, or by giving the berries sun exposure to increase monoterpenes that this can be overcome (late harvest = lower m.pyrazines, and b) monoterpenes tend to mask the smells of pyrazines).

    Pyrazine is something I feel tasters should be sensitized to, as the perception of it differs tremendously from taster to taster. Some experience it as very pleasant, and overly sensitive tasters see it as a fault. Anosmia for pyrazines seems to large in South Africa?

  4. Kwispedoor says:

    Generally, there’s no call for any pyrazine anxiety when good pyraziney wines have been allowed to mature sufficiently, esp. regarding the semillons and blends containing good whacks of semillon (some sauvignon and sauvignon-dominated blends might add fuel to your asparagus soup phobia, though). Quite a few of your descriptors of this seemingly very yummy wine are classic pyrazine manifestations.
    My wine club is tasting Elim whites on the 26th and a 2007 of this wine is one of the wines I’m considering to include. I just don’t want to open it prematurely!

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