There are few moments that I write about sauvignon blanc, so this column should be a fleeting one.
But not the case because I enjoy this widely lauded grape with its running mate, semillon.
So the occasion was the discovery of the rattling quality and enjoyment from drinking two Cullen Sauvignon Blanc Semillon wines from Margaret River, Western Australia-Cullen and Mangan Vineyard 2010s.
My enthusiasm for this generally boring grape rises when I cannot smell the telltale overt cut grass, pea pod and other culinary herbs which contribute to goulash. Thus the Cullen wines pass the test.
The second phase of the test however is the palate side – still no herbal characters are accepted where the high points are dumbed-down mineral characters, savoury acidity and some flavour length with dryness.
Vanya Cullen kindly outlines how she achieved this. “2010 Mangan vineyard is 62% sauvignon 38% semillon harvested in the range 11.5-13.4 Be, 13% aged in new oak.
“Cullen Vineyard is 66% sauvignon 34% semillon harvested in the range 9.7 to 12.2 Be with all the sauvignon aged five months in new oak”.
The barrel fermentation and aging is another technique which buries the overt sauvignon aromas – as more interesting and structured components take over.
The point about appreciating the Cullen vineyard is that the biodynamic viticulture in combination with natural yeasts and no doubt higher-than-normal fermentation temperatures, plus high solids in the ferment have totally subverted the herbal and grass character of the variety.
This wine really nails it; the palate screams of interesting mineral byproducts rather than just grass and the Mangan goes a long way there too, with a little squirt of sweet fruitiness just to interrupt the mineral harmony.
In 2009 the same practice occurred with Mangan vineyard 60/40 blend, 10-11.4 Be yielding 11.5% final alcohol (25% barrel). The Cullen vineyard, 70/30 blend, 10-12 Be gave 11.5% final alcohol also (70% new barrel).
It is becoming more common to see sauvignon blanc harvested very early – I saw a Granite Belt vineyard come off at 9.4 Be this year.
Some sauvignon style tasting notes.
Cullen Mangan Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2010; 12% (USD 37); ++++1/2; nose lemony, trifle herbal, oatmeal, taste fruity at the fruit, nectarine sweetness, then a tight coil of lemon sherbet acidity, long in flavour but eminently understated. Oak cleverly hidden.
De Bortoli La Boheme Act One Sauvignon Semillon Rolle 2010 Yarra Valley; 12% (USD20); ++++; nose shows no trashy smells of overt sauvignon, this has been hijacked by ferment in large casks, funk driven by solids going in a direction outside the clean and squeaky, the taste less angular than normal sauvignon acid raspiness, more cream and savoury, getting my attention.
Rolle is grown around Nice in France and more so in Corsica-it’s also called vermentino in nearby Sardinia; and is gaining popularity in Australian vineyards.
Fraser Gallop Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2010 Margaret River; 13% (USD 20.85); ++++; shows lemon and sawdust from restraint and precise winemaking; not smelly just enticing; taste is juicy and rich, has lots of latitude in the winemaking; 66/34; 15% French barrique fermented for 2 months, good peach, lively though, very good example where sauvignon is minor.
My benchmark semillon sauvignon is white Bordeaux; heavily oaked wines made quite brutishly and never the aromatic finesse that the Australians offer. However they continue to support my interest as the wines show and also develop palate weight which is missing in many of the skinny Australian styles.
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