Have you ever wondered why New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blancs are so highly rated? If you have, you probably imagine, as I did at first, that the best wines are produced in the Mediterranean climates which is to say, areas blessed with an abundance of sunshine. Not so, as I discovered.
And the reason is interesting.
In the warm climates, the sugar level of the grapes shoot up much faster than the tempo at which they actually ripen. This ‘natural ripeness’ of the grape is referred to as phenolic ripeness and means that the flavour components of the grapes are fully developed. Grapes that take longer to ripen achieve phenolic ripeness.
Well, chilly old New Zealand, and in particular Marlborough, produces a Sauvignon Blanc that is today regarded as one of the most famous wines in the world. The gradual ripening is what helps create their blockbuster sauvignon blancs.
Elements that create a cool climate are of course altitude, cooling winds, proximity to the ocean, and high surrounding mountain ranges.
South Africa is blessed with a fair number of cool climate wine regions such as the newcomers in the Agulhas area (Elim, Walker Bay, the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley).
Cape Point vineyards, so close to the both the Atlantic Ocean and the warmer Indian Ocean, produce exceptional wines. It was recognised as Winery Of The Year by Platter’s SA Wine Guide in. 2008 and in 2007 received the Old Mutual Trophy for Top Producer.
The Darling area, lying so close to the sea produces lovely whites as the vineyards benefit from the icy Atlantic Ocean.
The high-lying Elgin ward was traditionally an apple-growing region. Now wines showing exceptional fruit are produced here with Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir and Shiraz doing particularly well in this late-ripening cooler zone.
Tokara wine estate lies high up in the Helshoogte Pass, and as a result their wines ripen later than below in Stellenbosch. Despite this they import at least part of their grapes from the Elgin area to make their exceptional Tokara Elgin Sauvignon Blanc, which was awarded five Stars by John Platter in 2010.
It would be fun to visit these wine regions individually, and explore their lovely wines. We’ll do that soon.