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De Grendel Koetshuis Sauvignon Blanc 2010

The view from the De Grendel cellar.

Yesterday a workshop to discuss the way forward for Sauvignon Blanc hosted by Charles Hopkins, cellarmaster of Durbanville property De Grendel. Broadly speaking, three basic styles which can be labeled due to the dominant aromatic and flavour compounds at play, these being 1). Ester-driven;  2). Pyrazine-driven and 3). Thiol-driven.

Wines high in esters are typcially from warmer , inland growing areas and are lightly fruity and rather short-lived. Wines high in pyrazines tend to come from moderate or cooler areas and have pronounced “green” characteristics while wines with high thiol concentrations express characteristics of grapefruit, granadilla and other tropical fruit, the result of the conversion of the relevant precursors during fermentation – different yeast strains producing different concentrations of thiols.

It should also be noted that pyrazine levels decrease while the grape ripens; shaded fruit meanwhile will maximize the potential for retaining pyrazines whereas fruit exposed to sunlight is likely to produce lower pyrazine levels while retaining the thiol precursors.

The key question: when it comes to making Sauvignon Blanc, should the main aim be to accentuate the character of the variety, transform it or suppress it? Hopkins refers to himself as a “purist” and says he wants to “retain whatever he gets from his vines”. What does he make of anti-varietal, oak-influenced examples such as Chamonix Reserve, Reyneke White and Quoin Rock The Nicobar? “Bizarre” is his one-word reply.

De Grendel’s flagship Sauvignon Blanc goes under the Koetshuis label and typically sees own and Darling fruit combined. To illustrate the impact of different pyrazines levels on the end product, a tasting of various vintages:

1. De Grendel Koetshuis 2007
IBMP (2-isobutyl-3-methoxypyrazine) count: 64ng/l
Lime fruit, very herbal. Lighter bodied, great freshness.

2. De Grendel Koetshuis 2010
IBMP count: 55ng/l
Yellow fruit, hint of paprika. Great definition. Complex with a wide flavor spectrum. Good palate weight, balance and length.

3. De Grendel Koetshuis 2011
IBMP count: 17ng/l
Shy nose. Subtle flavor profile including yellow fruit. Broad rather than linear and relatively thick textured.

4. De Grendel Koetshuis 2012
IBMP count: 24ng/l
Very primary. Lime and a hint of herbaceousness. Light bodied, racy acidity, savoury finish. Appears pure and precise.

Not surprisingly, the 2011 is the wine with which Hopkins is least satisfied although I liked it quite a lot on account of it not being so overt. Wine of the day for me, however, was the 2010 on account of its extra complexity and surely excellence is to be achieved by producing wines with as many different aromatic and flavour compounds as possible rather than privileging any one set.

Comments

  1. Christian says:

    Hi Tim, “Anti varietal” is used here in the most neutral sense. Basically, Sauvignon Blanc is most regularly encountered as an “aromatic white” and when exposed to oak, the usual aromas it displays are minimised or at least transformed. I think such wines are entirely legitimate in principle but I’m aware that many industry professionals and consumers will have no truck with them.

  2. Kwispedoor says:

    Of course intrinsic worth will be seen, experienced, interpreted and conveyed differently by different people. I’m absolutely expecting different people to rate wines differently and – if tasted blind – I’m even expecting one person to sometimes rate the same wine differently under different circumstances. All I’m saying is that I prefer the additional bias of people being polarized by stylistic issues to be absent when rating wines. Let me explain by way of examples. They simplify the whole concept but should nevertheless hopefully get the basic idea of what I mean across.

    Some say Sauvignons with notable pyrazines are not where it’s at and that modern Sauvignons should have more of a thiol character. This means that they are sometimes – and some of them pretty much all the time – instantly negatively predisposed to any wine that shows perceptible pyrazines, thereby giving even the truly superb and complex pyraziney Sauvignons average ratings. Conversely, I’m a fan of disregarding fashion and style when rating wines (remember that Sauvignons with high pyrazine levels were all the rage not so long ago). The intrinsics that I prefer to judge wine on are things like fruit expression, individuality, balance, integration, sense of place, complexity, etc. – specifically excluding stylistic preferences and the fashion of the day.

    Some people say that Pinotage should only be made in the very lush, ripe style. That it’s not possible to get good wine from Pinotage at lower ripeness levels. I say disregard style, because – using only one example – a  beautiful bottle of Kanonkop Pinotage 1992 (at 13.67% ABV it could hardly have come from super-ripe fruit) yummily knocked the wind out of myself and eight other tasters on a blind tasting in 2007. One remembers such moments… Someone who has the above mentioned stylistic requirements for Pinotage will most probably find a wine like that Kanonkop 1992 a bit difficult to get to grips with when tasting it in its youth. Conversely, someone that allows for the possibility that other styles of Pinotage may offer greatness, will probably be fairer in rating/assessing it. 

    Some say that powerful, concentrated Chenin Blanc (wood, sugar, etc.) is passé. I say that it shouldn’t matter when assessing a particular wine, because there are still a few good examples of those out there. Sure, rate it lower if it’s flabby, short or over-wooded (quality intrinsics gone wrong), but don’t rate it lower if it doesn’t fit into your idea of stylistic requirements for Chenin.  

    I fear that I might have rambled on and that eloquence has escaped me in the process (with apologies to Sting), but perhaps if I’m lucky someone out there gets my drift. 

  3. Tim James says:

    I’d love to know what Christian means by the “oak-influenced” examples he mentions being “anti-varietal”. In what way? Is it the oxidative effects of oak? or the flavours of new oak? Is oak-influenced pinot noir, cabernet, etc “anti-varietal” etc, in your opinon, Christian? Or is it only sauvignon that you think suffers? As to Kwispedor’s and Harry’s celebrations of broad tastes – well, it’s a valid position that some people hold about all sorts of things from politics to … wine. Personally, I’m all in favour of having a consistent aesthetic which excludes as many things as it includes. To talk about “the intrinsic worth of any particular wine, regardless of style” sounds great, but is essentially meaningless. On what basis is “intrinsic worth” to be determined if not value judgements (which have social, historical, etc origins)?

  4. Kwispedoor, that was perhaps your best comment ever. Could not agree more. There is little point in being a wine tasting fascist. 

  5. Kwispedoor says:

    I don’t recall tasting the 2010 and I haven’t had the 2012 yet, but I truly loved the 2007 and also really liked the 2011. I always find it curious how many people get irked by specific styles. For instance, many people hate oxidatively made white wines, but surely there are some very good ones between those? Other people hate old-style (or any) Pinotage, which makes my palate roll its proverbial eyes every time it’s being conquered by a good old Kanonkop. Even if one prefers the more classically-styled red wines that show a sense of place (as I do), it’ll be a shot in one’s own foot to ignore the blockbuster reds, because there are some real beauties between them. Of course there’s no arguing taste and it’s an intellectually interesting exercise to discuss the merits of certain styles, but I’m a big fan of judging the intrinsic worth of any particular wine, regardless of style. 

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