By The Wine Guys, Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr
South African sauvignon blanc is not exactly top of mind for most American wine consumers. South Africa lacks a definitive wine grape identity, although they offer interesting and usually value-oriented varieties such as the white varietal chenin blanc and the red pinotage. More associated with sauvignon blanc is New Zealand, the world’s second largest producer of the varietal.
A severe decline in New Zealand production of Marlborough sauvignon blanc, the result of an early flowering and subsequent late frost, has decimated vineyard yields. The approximately 30 percent reduction in production could result in potential shortages and rising prices for this iconic flagship Kiwi product. However, this misfortune for New Zealand is an opportunity for other sauvignon blanc producers to fill the void. The cool climate in South Africa gives them an advantage.
We recently tasted several South Africa sauvignon blancs and believe they merit the attention of our readers. They all come from three adjacent wine regions that rim the southwestern coast of the country just off to the west from the Cape of Good Hope, and near the city of Cape Town. We were impressed with their refreshing drinkability, unique style and very reasonable prices.
Overall, we experienced elegant citrus fruit notes and a distinctive minerality that created very crisp drinkable wines. These wines are not built to age, so buy the most current vintage.
Whale Route Sauvignon Blanc Grand Reserve South Africa 2021 ($10). This bargain entry to our tasting was very impressive. Its lovely peach, mineral elements with a hint of herbs create a very lively and agreeable drink that should please everyone.
Rustenberg Sauvignon Blanc W.O. Stellenbosch 2020 ($14). Only stainless steel is used in producing this wine. Lemon citrus with a hint of ripe melon, moderate minerality, and aged on lees 3 months.
Lomond Sauvignon Blanc W.O. Cape Aguilhas 2020 ($18). From the cool southernmost tip of South Africa, this wine exhibits strong citrus and mineral notes with just a hint of white pepper that adds complexity.
Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc D.O. Walker Bay 2021. ($18). This example of sauvignon blanc from South Africa generated more fruit weight in the mouth with ripe plum and rainier cherry notes and a hint of passion fruit. A nice underlying minerality provided a pleasant contrast to the abundant fruit. Our favorite of the tasting.
Growing grapes in the Russian River Valley, Davis Bynum is primarily known for their delicious cool climate chardonnay and pinot noir but also produces a lovely sauvignon blanc.
The sauvignon blanc is sourced from a small 5-acre vineyard called Virginia’s block in honor of Davis Bynum’s second wife.
The Davis Bynum Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley Virginia’s Block 2020 ($25) is a complex sauvignon blanc balancing ripe peach notes with refreshing grapefruit and herb elements. Aged in a mix of woods and stainless steel this lovely wine with crisp acidity invites the taster to take another sip. Try with any chicken or seafood dishes.
We also enjoyed the Davis Bynum Chardonnay Sonoma County Russian River Valley 2018 ($25) which displayed a delicious creamy apple toast profile. Mouth-coating fruit and a long finish create a memorable drinking experience. Davis Bynum was the first to produce a Russian River Valley pinot noir in 1973. Today Davis Bynum fashions the Davis Bynum Pinot Noir Sonoma County Russian River Valley Dutton Ranches 2019 and their lengthy single vineyard winemaking experience shines. A complex mélange of plum, black cherry, and cola and spice notes are on display in a magnificent package.
Davis Bynum is part of the family-owned Rodney Strong Vineyards.
Alsace sparkling wine
Crémant from Alsace may be our favorite French sparkling wines outside of Champagne. Major French wine making regions produce a sparkling wine made from the wine grapes typically grown in the region. They sell for a fraction of the price of champagne and sometimes rival them for quality and popularity.
Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Rose N/V is one of our perennial favorites. Made from 100 percent pinot noir, this visually appealing sparkler features fresh cherry and strawberry flavors and nose and is delightfully refreshing.
We also enjoyed Domaine Joseph Cattin Cremant d’Alsace Brut N/V. The grapes vary somewhat from year to year but generally consist of some combination of pinot gris, pinot blanc and riesling. Apple notes are accented with citrus elements and present a smooth rich bubbly experience in the mouth.
Mettler Epicenter Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi 2019 ($25). Zinfandel fans will love this vibrant wine with ripe blueberry and black berry notes, hints of vanilla and spice with a long finish.
CK Mondavi California Merlot 2018 ($9). The price is not a typo. This may not be your most complex merlot, but it satisfies the palate and the pocketbook. Plum aromas with cherry and blackberry flavors. Very smooth and quaffable.
Priest Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($50). This opulent wine is made entirely from estate-grown, Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. Plum and black cherry notes, fine tannins and long in the finish.
Esporao Alentejo Portugal 2018 ($25). Well worth the reasonable price, this Portuguese gem is a blend of aragonez, trincadeire, syrah, touriga nacional, touriga franca, cabernet sauvignon and alicante bouschet. Whew! With lots of American oak aging, it is pack with jammy dark berry fruit flavors but accented by spice and chocolate.
Newton Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Unfiltered 2018 ($59). Although expensive, this red wine packs a lot of complexity for the price. A sumptuously deep and rich display of the classic cherry and cassis flavors that you expect from a premium Napa Valley cabernet. Soft approachable tannins make this fine wine a candidate for near-term drinking, but it has the legs for at least a decade of aging.