So can white wines age well?
It’s a well-known fact that good red wines tend to get even better with age. But what about quality whites? While there’s nothing like a crisp, young Sauvignon Blanc, the Constantia Valley (and Constantia Uitsig in particular) have long been producing white wines that not only shine straight out of the barrel, but defy norms and get better (and even better) over the years.
Of course, don’t just take our word for it…
We sat down with celebrated Cape Wine Master and Woolworths Wine Guru, Allan Mullins, to put our theory to the test. On our table? A selection of Constantia Uitsig’s White Blend vintages – the 2011, 2012 and 2014.
Having lived in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town for decades, and with a memory for good wine akin to an Amarula-loving elephant, Allan regales stories of the valley, noting how magnificent the maiden vintage of this blend was (a 2007 he recalls), “It was outstanding.” In fact, Allan still has a 2007 bottle in his cellar which he’s promised to share with us at Open Door during our next tasting together – we wait with baited breath!
Semillon-dominated, this Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend has turned heads since it first appeared on fine dining tables a decade ago…
The best Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc are fermented separately (with the Sauv Blanc doing so in stainless steel tanks and the Semillon in oak barrels) before the precise percentage of each varietal is determined and put into 600 litre barrels (15% of which are new oak) for 9-10 months. This time together in barrels is not facilitated by any batonage, and so slowly, the wine is able to subtly integrate… creating a sublime connection.
The Semillon comes from an old block – 27 years in the growing. “It’s situated in the worst soil imaginable,” Jacques adds. The conditions may be harsh, but it’s under these precise conditions of pressure that diamonds are forged in vineyards… In this case, the stressed vines and difficult growing conditions lend themselves perfectly to taming the otherwise too prolific Semillon – producing a tiny, concentrated yield instead of a bloated, dull crop.
While the Semillon brings incredible body and an oily texture to the blend, this is balanced beautifully by the Sauvignon Blanc which, in all three glasses before us, adds a fresh acidity and purity.
Age before beauty, we begin by tasting the 2011. Its colour is notable and stands out straight away in our line-up – a rich gold compared to the lighter translucent hue in the newer vintages.
“We don’t drink old white wines nearly enough.” Allan reflects as he expertly swirls the vintage in his glass. “Even Sauvignon Blancs from this valley have an incredible cellar life…” He goes on to tell us about the legendary, late Ross Gower’s 1986 Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc which was a knock-out for decades after…
Back to the wine at hand…
“It’s got a rich, honeyed nose,” Allan observes. With a slightly lower alcohol percentage to the other two (13.5% as opposed to 14%), it’s creamy, rich – with nuances of buttered toast coming through on the palate. The wood from the Semillon shows through beautifully too – more than in the younger vintages. “Fantastic,” Allan says as he smacks his lips together, “Incredible with seared tuna I bet…” And of course, we agree!
“It’s got an almost salty, saline finish that cuts across and contrasts the sweet richness.” Jacques adds.
Despite being over 5 years old, there’s a fine acidity apparent still, with stone fruits and riper citrus nuances that develop as we talk. In fact, we surmise that its best days are still ahead.
“This wine isn’t slightly tired – it’s still getting better. It’s a legend – I can’t believe how huge it is.” concludes Allan. And of course, we agree!
The 2012 is not as dominant – still multi-layered, yet more aromatic with hints of grapefruit coming through on the palate. Dried figs and a certain minerality (akin to wet sand perhaps) also come to mind.
The 2014 is quieter on the nose, “But it comes, it comes…” remarks Allan.
“It’s a wine that would definitely benefit from being decanted before serving,” suggests Jacques. Still, this 5-star John Platter doesn’t disappoint.
On the nose, you’ll find peaches, hints of bee’s wax and fresh lime. The palate fulfils on these aromatic expectations, with a fine finish.
Allan’s final verdict: “Elgin, Constantia and Cape Point – these cool climate areas are perfect for producing white varietals that age beautifully – fresh, aromatic and yet increasingly rich and complex as the years go by.”
Sadly – we’re sold out of all the previous vintages, and not far off selling out of this current 2014 vintage, so if you’d like to store some away for a rainy day, we’re offering our Inner Circle members a crazy deal on our Natura Vista 2014…
Buy 3 bottles from our wine shop, and only pay for 2. That way – you’ll be able to drink a few bottles now and still have the reserve to store for a few years to come.
Here’s to us all ageing as gracefully as our magnificent white wines!