White blend winners

I doubt if I was the only one to shake my head and mutter something like “huh?” at the results of this year’s Diners Club Winemaker of the Year award. The category was dry white blends, and one looked in vain when the finalists were announced for at least one of the great names in Cape white blends.

No reflection on the winner, from Spier – very possibly it is a truly magnificent wine, outclassing the offerings of Steenberg, Cape Point, Vergelegen, Tokara etc (on the Bordeaux-style side), and those of Sadie, Badenhorst, Alheit, Fable, etc (on the warmer-country-style side). To mention just some. Very possibly, many of the best-known white blends were not entered – always a further problem for the credibility of these competitions. Just as likely is that many of them were entered.

I confess that, as usual, I didn’t “crack the nod” as I think the Australians like to say, when it came to an invitation to the award ceremony – and didn’t even rate getting press releases about the awards. But I couldn’t have gone anyway, as clearly it was a “black tie” event, and I don’t have the right clothes (a lack which also obliges me to decline with regretful thanks and a touch of relief invitations to the Veritas Awards each year).

It was only a recent catch-up “new releases tasting with Angela Lloyd that reminded me of the Winemaker of the Year award (I don’t think it’s very significant any more, is it? just another competitions…). We tasted three white blends, all of the more “Swartlandish” style – though only one from Swartland itself. Two of them I could happily have welcomed as Diners Club winner.

The least of the three is Joostenberg Fairhead 2011 from the Myburgh’s appealingly unpretentious, farm-like Paarl estate. It’s of chenin, with viognier and roussanne. It seemed to me a touch less appealing than some vintages have been, with some light charm and a decent length of flavour, but less than harmonious, thanks to an edgy acidity. Nice enough, but not for the price- something over R100.

Solms-Delta Amalie 2013 is more or less the same price, but a rather more convincing buy. It’s the first vine-to-bottle offering from newish winemaker Hagen Viljoen – he and viticulturist Rosa Kruger are effecting something of a good vinous revolution at this Franschhoek property (though most of the best grapes are actually bought in from elsewhere). Amalie has generally been a good wine, and this is a very good wine, from grenache with chenin, roussanne and viognier. A convincing blend, quite rich but fresh and lively rather than heavy; well-handles oak, dry interesting and delicious. Hard to think that anyone wouldn’t like this wine.

sequilloIt takes something like Sequillo White 2013 to put Amalie’s claims into perspective – but, then, Sequillo is more expensive at around R160. It’s also, I believe, already sold out from the producer, so if you want some, better hurry to see which if any retailers still stock it. It’s a gorgeous Swartland wine, seamlessly blending chenin, clairette, viognier, verdelho and palomino. It’s generous yet bracing, with a fresh vibrancy. Not heavy, but with some weight, counterpoised by the acidity. Subtle oaking for breadth to add to the depth; earth and fruit, and a fascinating note of almond on the finish. I drank it over three evenings and, if anything, it continued to improve.

I can’t say I much appreciate the anatomical Sequillo labels this year, which are obscure as to significance and not even very attractive  – but, really, do we ultimately care any more about labels than we do who wins these competitions?

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