A blind tasting of oaked Sauvignons from around the world on the 3rd July at London Cru, organised by Jean-Christophe Mau and Richard Bampfield MW was a welcome opportunity to revisit West London’s ‘flavour of the month’ venue, as well, of course, to taste an interesting and perhaps overlooked category. Richard’s invitation proposed that: “ as Sauvignon Blanc is so ubiquitous and producers will need to work harder to add value and create their points of difference in future, the use of oak will become more widespread”.
The tasting was very well attended; all the luminaries of the world of wine journalism were there (including me), so there must be something to Richard’s assertion. I think we have become submerged in the overpoweringly citrus and fruit-some (Marlborough, mainly, but not exclusively) unoaked version, to the exclusion of the more traditional, complex perhaps, version.
Overall, I found most very good; my lowest mark was 15/20. Looking back over the crib sheet, my high marks (18-19) were fairly evenly distributed between old and new world. In my notes I did record a less prominent fruit in many of the old world ones, and low marks to some French ones where the oak seemed a bit dried and resinous, and not supported by sufficient fruit, but I really liked the integration of oak in Didier Dagueneau’s Pur Sang 2008. It was surprisingly fresh, not showing its six years of age, other than in the oak (fermented and aged in new oak) integration. In my notes I see ‘Fumé style’ against this wine, which is encouraging for my tasting skills as the wines were blind. Happily, since this was their tasting, I gave a good blind rating to Ch. Brown 2012, which I found attractively toasty and spicy. I wasn’t as negative as I expected to be about heavily oaked new world styles, in fact as long as the fruit wasn’t dominated I found several with really well-integrated, classy oak, again in the ‘Fumé’ style; Jordan ‘The Outlier’ 2012 in Stellenbosch, Terre a Terre 2013 in Wrattonbully, and Chimney rock, Elevage Blanc 2010 in Napa stood out for me in this style. My highest mark (19, I don’t do 20) went to Valdivieso’s Wild Fermented Leyda 2012, aged for 11 months in 500L French oak, and good marks to most of the Bordeaux blends with Semillon (although there weren’t many).
I think Richard and Jean-Chiristophe are right that this is a rewarding category. Value is added in the complexity and broader, spicier flavours of the oaked versions, particularly when this is not to the detriment of the brightness of fruit, and that applies to both old and new world versions. I’m just rushing off to buy some oak-aged Chilean Sauvignon now!