Festive whites

Summertime, holiday-time, Christmas time for some – and I bring tidings of bibulous joy. The Cape is offering an unprecedent range of good white wines at all price levels. A recent sampling of new releases showed this once again, with scarcely a dud on the table amidst all the stars. Red wine is a less completely happy story, but while hot, summery skies prevail and the living is easy, that’s maybe not so important.

There are good buys galore. Of the biggish-brand favourites, few producers do the value trick better than Kleine Zalze with their beautifully made Cellar Selection range – the 2012s as easy-going on the wallet as on the palate. The Chenin Blanc (R37) is soft but lively, with a freshness balancing the sweet, fruity charm. No-one will claim it as a “serious” wine – least of all the winemaker, I guess – but it’s impossible to sneer at. Simonsig and Alexanderfontein also offer Chenins with the same sort of profile at the same sort of price and with only a touch less suavity.

The Kleine Zalze Sauvignon Blanc (for which they charge R10 more than the Chenin,  because they can, sauvignon being inexplicably the more popular variety) is equally tasty and ingratiating, packed with succulence and none of the harsh sharpness that marks many cheaper sauvignons (and some pricey ones too). This time, however, I would probably give my vote to the Alexanderfontein version – also quite weighty and full-flavoured, but with a more steely, zingy bite to it.

Too often, especially for those who value the self-proclamatory ebullience of sauvignon blanc, wines made of blended varieties get overlooked. Which is immensely wrong, as the blends tend to offer even more value, being often that bit more interesting. No-one is likely to accuse the wines mentioned so far of being overtly characterful or thought-provoking, delicious as they are. Fairview’s Goats do Roam White (R42) moves in that direction without losing charm – perhaps partly because the varieties it’s made from (viognier, roussanne and grenache blanc) are uncommon, and each contributes its smidgen to a greater whole.

If you’re willing to go up to about R60, there’s even better value. My undoubted wine of the week comes from a farm in Paarl called Joostenberg, owned by the Myburgh family since 1876. Family Blend White it’s simply called, and the appealing label features a photograph of a Saturday afternoon in 1951, with the family plus hound plus what was presumably the 1951 equivalent of a modern bakkie and looks like a sawn-off truck, outside the Myburgh’s Cape Dutch homestead.

The wine, made from chenin, viognier and roussanne, is expressive, but modest in the very best sense – no flash, no overt fruitiness, no eager-to-please and slightly trashy sweetness; but deep, lingering notes of spice, apple, flowers and a stoney quality all bound together by a lively, dry freshness in a fine balance. It’s organic, what’s more.

But okay, you might still want your sauvignon blanc. For equivalent quality you’ll have to pay more, however. Try the 2012 vintage of the Fryer’s Cove Bamboes Bay, one of the best around, promising to be as impressive as the 2011 (also drinking well now; about R120). It’s grown and made up the Cape West Coast within sound and spray and smell of the crashing, cold Atlantic – which somehow makes real sense when you taste it.


From the Mail & Guardian, 14-20 December 2012

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