Be Cool. Sport Wood.
A thin-slice look at the state of
wooded sauvignon blancs in South Africa.
It’s not mine, Guv’nor.
I love a bit of wood in my Chardonnay. So one can imagine my dismay when I got totally busted on my passé penchant by an undercover member of the wine fashion police, writing me a ticket for enjoying something as “pas cool” as a wooded chard. Now in hindsight, I should have mustered my finest Gandalf impression and said, “Madam, if you’re drinking wine to be on trend, then I’m afraid you have bigger problems than a few splinters in your Chablis.”
Instead, all I could muster was a weird sort-of half curtsy, followed by an awkward swallow and something about it not being mine. “oh, I’m just holding it for a friend.”
“A chard should be judged on quality alone. Not on some acceptability scale modified from an early draft of the Mean Girls script”Han, while drinking solo.
James Dean; very dead, but still very cool.
Now, while the notion that quality can go out of style is sheer lunacy (and so a stellar wooded chardonnay should be assessed on its quality alone, rather than by some sort of acceptability scale, modified from an early draft of the Mean Girls script) there are those occasions where one doesn’t want to have to explain oneself.
Take James Dean, for instance. He’s dead, and so finds it almost impossible to explain himself. But he still needs to be cool, right? So what does he do? Well, he delivers a sure thing. He goes for that gray-scale image of him leaning against something. In his black t-shirt, smouldering. I mean he’s smouldering. Not his shirt. But whatever. The point is, it’s a sure thing. No one needs to have that explained to them. It just is.
So what if you have this crazy lust for lumber in your wine, but still need to serve “a sure thing”? Wooded Sauvignon Blanc. That’s what.
Hold the rocks.
Sauvignon Blanc’s generally light body and (preferably) crisp, zingy acidity makes it the ideal summer quaffer. And hey, there’s no judgment here, so why not toss a few blocks of ice in there, too. And, hell, maybe a straw, if times are tough.
But when it comes to serving a wooded Sauvignon blanc, you may want to try a more restrained approach.
The touch of oak in these wines bulks up the mouthfeel somewhat, delivering a heavier presence on the palate. Also, it will almost certainly add more complexity than a schoolbus of adolescent netballers, so don’t be afraid to sit with it for a little while. Give it a chance to tell you a story.
A good rendition on this theme should be able to deliver (1) clearly articulated fruit (depending on ripeness levels these could range from lemons right through to sweet [each), (2) savoury and herbal complications (grass, nettles, asparagus, peppers), and of course (3) the oak influence, which can manifest as coconut, vanilla, dairy products, or sweet spice.
*If you’re looking to taste your wine a little more actively, an interesting exercise is to try and break down the notes that you’re tasting into those three categories.
Even The Pundits say so.
If after all this, you’re still feeling insecure, or you’re simply a chronic people pleaser, you can rest assured that at least three of the 2016 FNB Top Ten Sauvignon Blancs were wooded (a significant portion, given that they are far rarer than their unwooded counterparts), and so if the big wigs say so, then who are your dinner guests to argue.
The FNB woody winners were:
1. Cape Point Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015
2. Hermanuspietersfontein Nr 5 Sauvignon Blanc 2013
3. Jordan The Outlier Sauvignon Blanc 2015
Another goodie worth finding is the Steenberg Rattlesnake. You shouldn’t pay more than R110 per bottle (November 2016)