Verdict: Premium Oaked Sauvignon Blanc/Sauvignon Semillon blind tasting
Such was the interest generated by a blind benchmarking Premium Rosé tasting, both from the trade and you, that I am prompted to post my pick of Portuguese roses next Monday and, in this post, share with you the results of another blind benchmarking tasting. Also organised by Jean-Christophe Mau of Chateau Brown and his consultant Richard Bampfield MW, it focused on another niche category, Premium Oaked Sauvignon Blanc. Thirty-two wines from eight countries were shown.
Sauvignon/Semillon blends which originate in Bordeaux featured too (Sauvignon was,in each case, the lead partner). Shame there were not any Australian examples – it would have been interesting to see, for example, Stella Bella Suckfizzle or The Lane The Gathering in the line up or, from the Cape, Cape Point Vineyards Isliedh Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon – all top notch examples of the genre. Still, Australia and the Cape fielded four of my top eight examples (all four being 100% Sauvignons).
We were asked to score the wines out of 20. Below are my top eight wines from the tasting followed by the composite verdict of 35 trade tasters (journalists, merchants, educators and MW students) and Bampfield’s summary of the key points to be drawn from the exercise. What’s your take on this category? Do you have any favourites you’d like to share? Please do post a comment.
My top eight premium oaked Sauvignon Blancs & Sauvignon/Semillons
Not much between my top eight wines, which scored 17/20 or more.
Château Latour Martillac 2012 (Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux)
A 70% Sauvignon/30% Semillon blend aged for 15 months in French oak (35% new). Tight, well-focused and very mineral with blackcurrant bud hints and piquant horse radish notes. Great liveliness, line and mouthwatering length. A linear Bordeaux style which I’d thought was 100% Sauvignon from the Loire! 13% 18/20
Reyneke Reserve White 2011 (Stellenbosch, South Africa)
I well recall being blown over by the poise and limpidity of the first vintage of this 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Fermented and aged 15 months in 300l barrels (50% new) the 2011 vintage is strikingly powerful – a concentrated Sauvignon with great richness of ripe citrus fruit and well integrated creamy vanillin oak. A powerful finish has a lively tang of acidity. Very delicious. 13% 17.5/20
Château Brown 2012 (Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux)
This blend of 64% Sauvignon,36% Semillon is aged for 8 months in medium toast barriques (50% new, 50% 2nd fill). Initially tightly focused with flint,lemon and grapefruit on the attack it builds in texture and depth, revealing rich, ripe stone fruits going through. Lovely length, weight and balance. 13.5% 17.5/20
Larry Cherubino Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (Pemberton, Western Australia)
Lots of vanilla bean and spicy oak on the nose and palate of this 100% Sauvignon Blanc which has been aged for three months in new oak. But there’s a pronounced and very persistent underlying thrust of tightly-coiled steely grapefruit and an attractive lick of blackcurrant bud. Long with racy acidity. 12.5% 17/20
Terre a Terre 2013 (Wrattonbully, South Australia)
I visited Terre a Terre last year so good to see this 100% Sauvignon perform well. Wrattonbully may be better known for its reds but limestone bedrock and an ambitious Bordeaux hand at the tiller make for a very zippy, lemon zesty white with a pure core of fruit and bright beam of acidity. Oak (6 months in Vosges 225l/demi-muids) is lightly worn – an attractive dusting of cedar spice. 12% 17/20
Calyptra Grand Reserve 2010 ( Cachapoal Valley, Chile)
I don’t know this producer at all but this richly concentrated 100% Sauvignon has great palate presence with candied citrus, passionfruit and spicy oak. A rich, ripe fruit-focused style with lovely weight and balance. It was fermented and aged for 18 months in 600l barrels. 14.5% 17/20
Huia Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (Wairau Marlborough, NZ)
A portion of this 100% Sauvignon was fermented in neutral French oak barrels. It has nice weight to its white peach fruit which is balanced by a rasp of fresh herbs and touch of funk. Nice persistent acidity gives length and lively interest. 14% 17/20
Jordan The Outlier 2012 (Stellenbosch, South Africa)
A subtle, gently fruity and persistent Sauvignon with a lift of bay leaf and smoke/flint to its lively grapefruit core. Nice persistence and balance. It was 60% barrel fermented (60% new Nevers, Alliers + 10% American). 13% 17/20.
The composite verdict
Three of the top five scoring wines were from Bordeaux and three of the top seven were from New Zealand. The top three wines were:
- Château Brown 2012 (Bordeaux)
- Reyneke Reserve White 2011 (Stellenbosch)
- Caillou Blanc de Château Talbot 2012 (Bordeaux)
Huia 2013, Greywacke 2011 and Astrolable Taihoa 2010 all received much favourable comment.
- There was general agreement that, where the oak treatment was well managed, Sauvignon retained its freshness well.
- The top wines were in general fermented as well as aged in oak.
- None of the top wines received more than 50% new oak, and generally less.
- The general impression seemed to be that, where the oak treatment was well managed, these were more exciting and complex wines than unoaked Sauvignon.
- It was unclear as to whether the addition of Semillon was a benefit. Some of the blends were well received, others less so.
- Many producers are experimenting with larger (500l and 600l) oak barrels.
- The feedback suggests that most tasters thought the oak treatment was more sensitively managed than might have been the case in a comparable Chardonnay tasting.
- All tasters commented on the broad variety of wine styles.
- It was not easy to identify the provenance of the wines. There were outstanding wines from all countries – and little consistency within each country.
- The generous fruit of the New Zealand wines seemed to balance well with oak.
- Some of the more mature wines showed well, indicating that this is a wine style that certainly has the capacity to improve with age.