Some relief from sauvignon

All those zillions of sauvignon blancs! – that’s what I dispiritedly thought at my local supermarket this week and wondered how people choose one rather than another -because, especially for me, they’re mostly remarkably similar. Perhaps it’s a blind spot or that I just lack sauvignon subtlety.

Some customers will have a favourite or buy by habit, some will go by price (though there’s plenty of overlap), some will choose a label to match their curtains or their lover’s eyes and some sauvignon devotees doubtless reach out at random and are unlikely to be disappointed – the real brand is brand sauvignon, after all.

The eyes of the bored or adventurous might slide to the smaller selections of chenin blanc or chardonnay, but there’s not much further to go in the white-wine section. How about the array of grenache blanche and roussanne for those wanting something new and interesting? Well, sadly no, though I did see the Goats Do Roam White 2010, which comes close, and bought a bottle for something over R40. This wine contains 17% roussanne (“for texture”, the back label says – briefly helpful before drifting on to the usual meaningless drivel with words such as “art”, “perfect” and “timeless”) and 15% grenache blanc (“for freshness”). These supplement a basic freight of viognier – another less common white variety, which you can usually find a few examples of bottled by itself.

Goats White is a pleasant blend, a little richer and less acid than most sauvignons, with (to me) more interesting scents and flavours and a sexier texture on the tongue. No vast intensity here – it is even a touch insipid – but decent value at the price.

Roussanne and grenache (there is rather more of the red-wine version of grenache about) are both varieties particularly at home in southern France and increasingly fashionable around the world, with a slightly classier reputation than viognier. Both find their way into some Cape white blends, including fancy ones such as Sadie Palladius and more pedestrian ones such as Goats. But there are still precious few of these grapes around and just a few single-varietal bottlings – which makes the Foundry particularly unusual as it offers both.

Last year they introduced their Grenache Blanc, which promptly gained admirers as well as five stars in the Platter Guide. The second vintage, 2010, is now available for about R100 and will be followed in June by the maiden Roussanne at R20 more.

The Foundry is a tiny but growing label (there are also a well-reputed Syrah and a Viognier), one of the more successful of the “moonlighting” projects of winemakers at established cellars. In this case the winemaker is Chris Williams (with a business partner in James Reid), who is doing a fine job at Meerlust Estate, where he makes the wines.

Both are very good and will improve greatly with a year or two. The Grenache is the more showy now, with winning notes of citrus, peach and pear; it is rich but not heavy, showing a little sweetness, a fraction too much for my taste, and the 2010 at present doesn’t seem quite up to the standard of the first vintage.

The Roussanne is already special – some floral qualities, honey and peach, with finesse and subtle intensity and, most gloriously, a texture like silk rippling over stones (hopefuly a plausible concept). They are two fine reasons for conservative winelovers to expand their drinking horizons.

First published in the Mail & Guardian

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