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Delicious South African Sauvignon Blanc
It's funny how we turn into our parents as we get older. When I was younger, I never understood what my father and mother got out of sitting around and droning on about the way things used to be ... and now I do it! I fell into this reverie, curiously enough, upon contemplating my second glass of Mulderbosch 2011, a really delicious Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa's Western Cape.
So why would a South African white, however tasty, act like Marcel Proust's famous madeleine cookie to yank a long rumination out of my easily distracted mind?
It's pretty simple, really: Not that long ago, back when I first got interested in wine and then started writing about it as on-the-side gig from my regular job as news reporter at the old Louisville Times, most Americans - including me - thought of wine as a fancy drink that came from Europe - France and Italy, maybe, and some sweet stuff from Germany and cheap fizz from Portugal - plus some affordable but second-tier plonk from California and sweet kosher wine from New York.
Selected parts of Europe for the good stuff. American wine when we didn't want to pay for the Old Country cachet. That was pretty much the wine universe for us, and you'll note that it was entirely in the Northern Hemisphere, entirely within the confines of Europe and North America.
It wasn't that long ago - during the 1980s, mostly - that the first arrivals from offbeat places like Australia and Argentina started coming in. Whoa! Those were exciting days for a wine writer, not only discovering but sharing news about new tastes from unfamiliar places! New Zealand wines came a little later, and I wanted to try one, but it was $30, and I wasn't so sure about that, even on a newspaper wine columnist's expense account. Chile came later still, its economy wrecked by Pinochet and the CIA; and South Africa was long held offshore by America's justifiable trade embargo based on its apartheid laws.
Apartheid fell in the early '90s (a happy event that even more happily coincided with the end of the Iron Curtain), and as South Africa's economy recovered and its wine started trickling in, American wine lovers discovered that this climate-favored, naturally beautiful spot in the Southern Hemisphere was capable of producing some mighty fine wine.
Mulderbosch was one of the first to arrive, and it has remained one of South Africa's best and most trusted labels. In other news, it recently came under the American ownership of Terroir Capital, a California-based investment group headed by Charles Banks, who was once a partner in the cult California Cabernet producer Screaming Eagle. I wouldn't make too much of the Screaming Eagle connection, though. I doubt that we'll see a $500 "trophy" Mulderbosch.
Mulderbosch is located in South Africa's Stellenbosch Hills in South Africa's Western Cape. They make a range of varieties including Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon (and a Cabernet Rosé) and a Chenin Blanc (locally known as Steen). It's the Sauvignon Blanc that has impressed me since the first, though, and stands as a competitive equal with the better-known Sauvignon Blancs by New Zealand, whose wines, thankfully, also now fall in a range that I can afford.
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Today's Tasting Report
Mulderbosch 2011 Western Cape Sauvignon Blanc ($15.99)
This benchmark South African white shows a clear straw color in the glass. More to the citric than the grassy side for Sauvignon Blanc, with subtle elements of white citrus fruit, grapefruit and pears, and just a hint of Sauvignon "grassiness." It's subtle and complex, which I frankly prefer to the in-your-face style that made New Zealand's Sauvignon Blancs famous. Bright and fresh in the palate, balanced and complex, it's full but not overdone at 13.5% alcohol. Dry and tart white fruit and snappy acidity follow the nose and freshen the palate, making it a fine choice at the dinner table. U.S. importer: Mulderbosch, Bridgeport, Pa. (Oct. 16, 2013)
FOOD MATCH: The back label advises goat cheese, asparagus, fresh artichokes, oysters, grilled snapper, calamari, seafood paella or chicken in a white-wine sauce. All workable options, although the list is so specific that it leaves out lots of other obvious options. I think I might go with more generic advice: sautéed green veggies, cheese or fish, seafood or chicken in lighter-style preparations. In this instance it worked very well indeed with a simple autumn dish of broccoli and garlic sautéed in good olive oil over spaghetti with grated Grana Padano cheese.
WHEN TO DRINK: I don't see it as a cellar keeper. Buy it and drink it. Still, it's not fragile; don't worry if you "lose" it on the wine rack or in the cellar. The winery actually suggests aging potential up to seven years past the vintage.
VALUE: The mid-teens price seems fair, and Wine-Searcher.com reports $16 as average U.S. retail. Still, it might be worth shopping around, as some of Wine-Searcher's vendors offer it as low as $12 or less.
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:
Find vendors and compare prices for Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc on Wine-Searcher.com.
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