The winners of the 2013 FNB Top 10 Sauvignon Blanc competition were revealed this month at Blaauwklippen Wine Estate in Stellenbosch. Held under the auspices of the Sauvignon Blanc Interest Group of South Africa (SBIG) with sponsorship provided by FNB, this year attracted a record number of 207 entries (compared to 195 in 2012). The Sauvignon Blanc Top 10 competition was started in 2007 to promote innovation and excellence in the category, and reward those endeavouring to make wines of true distinction.
The 2013 FNB Top 10 Sauvignon Blanc competition winners are:
= Alexanderfontein Chip Off The Old Block 2013
= Boschendal Reserve Collection 2013
= Cape of Good Hope Altima 2013
= Cape Point Vineyards Reserve 2012
= Cape Point Vineyards Woolworths 2012
= Franschoek Cellar Statue de Femme 2013
= Kleine Zalze Family Reserve 2012
= Nederburg Private Bin D234 2012
= Phizante Kraal 2013
= Thelema 2013
“We applaud the ten contestants who’ve reached the final stage of the 2013 FNB Sauvignon Blanc Top 10 competition. The record number of entries received this year not only highlights the growing popularity of the competition, but also highlights the confidence that each of our contestants have in their products. FNB is proud to be the title sponsor of a contest which continues to elevate the position of South African wines while showcasing the depth of talent in our wine-making industry,” said Stephan Claassen, FNB Provincial Head, Western Cape.
The team of five experienced judges, drawn from all sectors of the industry including fine wine retail, media, education as well as winemaking, sat down for three days to taste, discuss and deliberate. After the first round, 37 wines managed to get the nod from the group of judges, and these wines were subjected to a second round, where 20 finalists, and ultimately the Top 10, were determined. The judges were looking to reward wines showing the distinctive features of South African Sauvignon Blanc, while maintaining elegance, clean fruit expression and overall balance.
The quality of Sauvignon Blanc has risen dramatically in recent years and again the panel wasn’t disappointed. “An extraordinarily enjoyable line-up to taste,” said Carrie Adams of retailer Norman Goodfellows and panel member. “Even stronger than last year,” said Richard Kershaw MW of Richard Kershaw Wines, who officiated on the panel both this year and in 2012. “The wines at the top are fantastic and there’s a really broad band which is above average.”
The green and ultra-acidic wines of around a decade ago are largely gone and instead what is emerging is a category of good basic quality, but also really exciting stylistic diversity. “Some wines are herbaceous and spicy, other show more tropical fruit and then there are others that have had some oak influence and they’re all legit,” said Cathy Marston, wine educator and journalist.
In years gone by, there’s been much debate about whether greener (pyrazine-derived) flavours should prevail over tropical fruit (thiol-derived) flavours or vice versa, whereas now the best wines tend to show evidence of both compounds, their aromas and flavours much more multi-faceted as a consequence.
Achieving greater complexity is no simple matter, however. “Pyrazines are managed in the vineyard and are relatively easy to achieve. Thiols, however, depend on cellar practices and I think we all need to work harder to enhance and protect these compounds,” said Elzette du Preez, winemaker at De Grendel and panel member. “More imaginative yeast regimens and more care to prevent oxygen uptake is what’s needed.”
Texture is another area where the category has shown great advances – lean and mean examples are much less to the fore and the best wines have a weight and creaminess about them, this typically the product of extended lees contact.
Another point of intrigue for those who follow the category closely is the wide range of producing areas represented among the top performing wines: Cape Point, Darling, Durbanville, Elandskloof, Franschhoek, Olifants River, Stellenbosch and Walker Bay are all represented to a greater or lesser extent. Of the top 10 wines, six are single-property wines (Alexanderfontein, Cape of Good Hope, the Reserve from Cape Point Vineyards, Nederburg, Phizante Kraal and Thelema) and the other four are multi-regional blends.
While the ten winning wines were made with grapes originating from a broad range of producing areas, it was a year where Darling, Durbanville and Stellenbosch showed particularly well. Duncan Savage of Cape Point Vineyards again showed his mastery of the grape variety, by making two Top 10 wines with grapes originating from different appellations. The relatively unknown Elandskloof ward is also represented in the final group in the form of Cape of Good Hope Altima 2013, and producer-wholesaler DGB repeated their stellar performance of 2011 with new vintages of Boschendal Reserve Collection and Franschhoek Cellar Statue de Femme again appearing among the winners.
Lastly, it should also be noted that while six of the wines are from the most recent 2013 vintage, four of them are from 2012 which should gladden the hearts of those that feel the best local Sauvignon Blanc gets drunk too young.
An FNB Top 10 Sauvignon Blanc pack, including one bottle of each of the winning wines, will be sold through the Wade Bales Wine Society in limited quantities, as some of the wines in the Top 10 were produced in very small volumes.