Many wine growers in South Africa have been dedicated to producing just a single varietal of white wine, such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. The expertise which is put into producing these wines has allowed the wine industry in South Africa to flourish, but for many wine experts, it is the white wine blends that the country produces which really show the stand-out talents of its wine makers. White wine blends are more difficult to produce than those of red wine, simply because of the more delicate nature of the wine, and the risks of marring the colour through over-blending.
South Africa has been very proud of its single-varietal productions, particularly Chenin Blanc which is virtually unknown to wine growers in the ‘New World’. That South Africa has managed to make such a promising wine from the Chenin shows that there are really interesting white wines to come from the country, and one way in which these wines can really be showcased is through the process of making white wine blends. South Africa really does need to work on its production of good-quality white wines, and careful blending will allow it to bring its range of grapes and flavours to international wine markets.
There are already several white wine blends from South Africa which have demonstrated to overseas customers that the Southern Hemisphere can produce more than just Sauvignon Blanc, but these have not really taken the domestic market by storm. This may be just down to poor marketing – unlike the ‘Cape Blend’ which can define South African red wine blends, the mix of white wine has no stand out label – but it is also due to a lack of understanding about the great tastes and aromas that can be produced by a blend of white wines.
There are perhaps two distinct white wine blends that South Africa is producing, and which are worth exploring further. The first is a classic blending of Sauvignon Blanc with Sémillon, which is then fermented before being matured in barrels made from French Oak. There are a number of producers of this wine, including the Tokara Director’s Reserve wine, and the Vergelegen White Blend. The strength of the Sémillon, undercut by the fruit-bearing intensity of the Sauvignon Blanc, provide an elegant and well-rounded white wine blend that grows in complexity as it matures. This wine is a classic, and there is no real change from age-old traditional methods of manufacturing this blend.
The other white wine blend is a little more of a surprise package, and revolves around the blending of Chenin Blanc with a number of different varieties from the Rhône region. These wines can include Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Viognier, and Rousanne. Part of the reason for this mix is the large amount of white wine which has been produced by the Swartland area. Not all of it has been suitable for single-varietal wines, and so good blends have been produced in order to absorb the wine lake. These are usually very good white blends, such as the Palladius wine, which used slightly mature Chenin grapes with a mixture of white wines, although it is very costly. Another, Sequillo, is a mix of Chenin, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, and Viognier.
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