Say “Sauvignon Blanc” and France or New Zealand will spring to most wine lovers’ minds. These cool areas of the wine growing world are ideally placed to produce zingy, fresh wines that live up to the wildness implied in their ‘sauvage’ name.
Few would associate such wines with South Africa and its much warmer climate. Yet the Constantia area along the southern part of the Cape Peninsula experiences cooling, summertime breezes that originate from False Bay. These south-easterly winds help produce high-quality Sauvignons that draw comparisons to those from France and New Zealand.
The region was first recognized for quality Sauvignon in 1986, after Klein Constantia released its maiden vintage. Today, eight of the nine Constantia farms produce sought-after examples.
But just how do these wines stand up to some of the best France and New Zealand can offer? This was the question sommelier and Fine Wine Events organizer, Jorg Pfützner, asked 60 guests at a blind tasting of 50 Sauvignon Blancs from these countries at the recent Aylesford Constantia Fresh event.
Tasters weren’t always able to pinpoint the country of origin: they guessed the first ten wines represented a mix from each country when in actuality they were all French. But the Constantia wines made their mark further, distinguished by a purity of varietal fruit considered less showy than New Zealand’s (as in St Clair Pioneer’s Block) but more expressive than that found in the French wines (such as Sancerre’s Francois Cotat’s Monts Damnes). A trio of Sauvignons from respected producer Michel Redde et Fils, represented at the event by seventh generation, Sebastian Redde, nicely revealed the different terroir styles.
Like the Cotat, the Constantia’s don’t show their best overnight, taking a year or two to reveal their fruit, lees-enriched texture and lively, lingering finish. But, also like Cotat Sancerre, they have similar staying power; that 1986 Klein Constantia, a highlight of the tasting, still shows splendid fruit and freshness.
Another highlight of the festival? The following day, some of the Cape’s top chefs produced a variety of dishes to accompany Constantia and a spectrum of other cool-climate Sauvignons from around the Cape. Prawns with melon, scallops with passion fruit, duck breast to phyllo-wrapped goat’s cheese were just some of the many offerings—and the Sauvignons loved them all.