SA blends emerge from the shadows
Wine blends are thriving on new-found respect and some of the best loved wines are made of a range of varietals
Until about 40 years ago, blended Cape wine always sold for less than decent, well-branded, single-varietal examples. The mere mention of cultivar on the label appears to have offered a guarantee of quality. It was widely assumed that if you weren’t prepared to disclose the variety, you had something to hide.
This coincided with the time when there were very few so-called noble varieties available in the Cape. The total plantings of cabernet sauvignon and shiraz were less than 4% of the national vineyard. There was no merlot, malbec, pinot noir or cabernet franc. If a wine was sold as “dry red”, clearly (so the logic went) its components were patently “unmentionable”.
Regarding whites, the “deluxe” cultivar was crouchen blanc (sold as “riesling”). The first modern sauvignon blanc vineyards date from the mid-1970s, chardonnay a little later. The ubiquitous blanc de blancs and premier grand crus of that bygone era were blends comprising colombard, ugni blanc, chenin blanc and clairette blanche. No wonder no-one was ready to attribute a premium to what lurked in the bottle...