The greatness – and adequacy – of white wine

Seven white wines, announced Eben Sadie, pouring the first. From six countries. Each one a vintage older than the preceeding wine’s, starting with the youngest.

It took us a long, long evening to get to the oldest (no spitting, plenty of excellent food) – but I”ll be crisper here, with no tasting notes (I didn’t make any, and don’t remember all the details – especially as the evening wore on). And most emphatically no scoring – probably, undoubtedly, some were finer than others, but all were very good, which is enough.

I should apologetically warn – if you (very legitimately) object to what has unattractively been called a wine-wank, stop here.


The first wine was rather familiar in aroma, flavour and texture – Swartland chenin? – but particularly elegant and thrilling, without any of the excess sweetness and richness that occasionally creeps into such wines. Not a straight chenin it turned out, but a blend of nine varieties: Sadie Family Palladius 2009, which Eben thinks perhaps his best – at least until the 2011. Brilliant, deeply satisfying wine.

The 2008 was unmistakeably burgundy. Unusually delicate, but penetrating, and much admired. Turned out to be the famous Bonneau de Martray Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru. I have to confess I was a touch less impressed than others (as on the two previous occasions I remember having this wine) – I’d have liked a bit more stuffing, a bit less subtlety, to it; I’m not chardonnay’s or white burgundy’s greatest admirer in the world, so just mark me down as inadequate to the occasion.

The next wine was pleasant enough – pretty good, even, and interesting – but the evening’s least memorable for me: Niepoort Redoma Branco 2007, from the Douro in Portugal.

On the other hand, the next wine (rather dark it looked, for a 2006) I loved from the first sniff – which, with blackcurrant and passionfruit, to me declared sauvignon blanc in the nicest possible way. But more complex than most sauvignons, beautifully fresh, and with none of the pungency that starts accruing to most of them as they gather the years. The colour and a tannic tug, as well as something unusual about the freshness, suggested quite lengthy skin contact. That much I guessed correctly, but no more. It was a Californian, the Scholium Project The Prince in his Caves 2006 – a name I’ll forgive them for (even more bizarre than some of Bruce Jack’s), seeing how wonderful the wine was. I’ve only had one Scholium Project wine before – the rather overripe and disappointing cinsaut tasted a few months back.

The next wine had most of us confused – certainly me. I thought it was a delicious dry, rich German riesling, perhaps from the Nahe. Turned out to be Germanic enough, but from the Wachau in Austria, and a gruener veltliner: Pichler Loibner Berg Smaragd 2005. I’ve mistaken a good gruener for chablis before, but not for riesling. Chris Mullineux also thought it a riesling, which made me feel better as he’s no fool. Perhaps it shows (I say weakly, unconvincingly) that with a bit of wine age (8 years, huh?) precise varietal identity starts diminishing, as it does with reds. But lovely wine.

Another South African next – and what an excellent one: Boekenhoutskloof Semillon 2004, from mostly ancient vines. This was the most perfect bottle of this wine I can remember tasting – though I much appreciated the 2004 I had at Boekenhoutskloof earlier this year. Boekenhoutskloof Semillon is one of the most generally underrated of Cape whites – no doubt partly because straight semillon is not nearly as much appreciated as blends with sauvignon (including by me), but also because we’re wrong. This was, I thought, as fine a wine as any of the evening. Fully mature, perhaps, though I’d love to try it again and again during the future that it undoubtedly has.

Finally, a wine which tasted even more like a proper German dry riesling than the gruener veltliner had: Eugen Muller Forster Kirchenstuk 2003. Frankly, I can remember little about it, except that it was less rich and finer than quite a lot of Germans I’ve had  from that hot European year, and was a fitting conclusion to an evening of drinking just white wine with (and without) dinner.

We managed a whole evening just fine without any red colour and tannin.

As Eben remarked in an email next day: Thought of the day! White is the visible expression of all colour combined as light. We could happily have lived on the planet if we only had white wine! But then as a bonus Red, Rose and Orange wine was added!

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