Thursday, November 4, 2010

Elderflower discovered in Oak Valley

If there is any doubt Cape Sauvignons age well it was dispelled by a vertical tasting of Oak Valley’s striking Sauvignon Blancs. Another growing school of thought is that – in cooler regions anyway – they can benefit from at least a year or two of bottle maturation before revealing all their beauty.

Oak Valley Mountain Vineyards
All the wines displayed seamless palate integration that generally occurs best with natural acidity and balanced fruit. Another cool climate marker was the Elderflower aroma I found on the 06 although wind had reduced this vintage’s yield to a mere 1t/hectar. The common threads throughout were citrus – including grapefruit and lime – and steeliness or mineral character.

The first three (03-05) are under natural cork which, depending on which camp you are in, is either a blessing or a curse. The oldest vintage displayed the most freshness of the three which – vintage variation aside – suggests that the development was influenced by the closure (this is a very site-specific wine). It would have been a brilliant exercise if some of the same wine was under screw cap to compare their development.

However, some confounding influences occurred with the 09 displaying a richer palate with a touch of creaminess and subtle green pepper and grassy notes in a slight change in style which has wider consumer appeal (including with some judging panels?). Has the Cape grown up on greener style Sauvignon’s and is the change from the weight of history?

There is an argument that these wines appear under appreciated locally while it is more certain that this genuine cool-climate style is rare in the Cape. Serial JP 4,5 stars are not to be sniffed at and these wines display exceptional balance, length, intensity and character (with possible exception of 08) which has seen them garner a clutch of overseas accolades including Decanter regional trophy and runner up for the International Trophy and best in class at the London International Wine and Spirit Competition.  

If I were a gambling man I would bet that the 09 is going to get 5 stars while the closed, currently austere ‘10 needs a couple of years in bottle but will be well worth the wait.

Meanwhile Oak Valley’s Pinot Noir 2008 has won a Gold Medal and the Regional Trophy in the over £10 class at the 2010 Decanter World Wine Awards in London while the 2009 Chardonnay received the Trophy for the best overall South African white wine at the 2010 International Wine Challenge (IWC) in London.

Elgin's Oak Valley Vineyards


  1. Dear Jonathan

    Your review of our back vintages of Sauvignon is amongst the most insightful I have read.

    Regarding your comment on the ’09, the wine includes a 3% component of natural barrel fermented Semillon (2nd and 3rd fill French oak) as well as an equivalent percentage of SB fermented in 2nd and 3rd fill French barrels.

    This may be the reason for point of difference you detected with this vintage.

    It has become apparent over time that certain SA regions are attempting to define the perceived characteristics of a “true” South African Sauvignon category.

    Our (Elgin) style of wine does not fit the asparagus/green pepper profile and in this context the wines are possibly misunderstood ie: as not being true to “type”.

    Kind Regards
    Anthony Rawbone-Viljoen

  2. re 5* bet - it got highly recommended and 4,5 stars in the Platter Guide, so no cigar but I was consoled by a glass - greatly