If there’s one white grape variety that has found its nirvana in the tropical climates of Asia, it would have to be sauvignon blanc, where practically every day is a ‘crisp white, summers drinking day’.
If I were a sauvignon blanc producer I would be focusing my attention and campaigning harder on this part of the world rather than seasonally dependent traditional markets. And that’s exactly what savvy Austrian wine producers are doing, with a youthful and energetic Armin Tement from Weingut Tement beating the feet around Asia recently and visiting Singapore on-route.
Tement is located in Styria, on the border of Slovenia, indeed their vineyard slopes have a view right over the nearby hills of Slovenia. I visited the region some years back and walked down the middle of country road that on one side is Austria/Styria and the other Slovenia, with an eerie thought in the back of my mind that this would not have been a good idea in the days of the ‘Iron Curtain’. Notwithstanding the incredibly beautiful and seemingly undiscovered countryside, the tomatoes here are the best I have tasted in my life, so amazingly sweet and flavorsome.
Apart from seducing the Marlborough sauvignon blanc converts and diehard French (Sancerre and Pouilly Fume habitué) I would suggest the hardest part about campaigning when you are a sauvignon blanc specialist, like Tement, is getting the opinionated wine connoisseur to take you seriously, that is the variety seriously, little lone your wines.
Getting to the crux of the matter, few wine connoisseurs comprehend, or even want to entertain, that sauvignon blanc can have pedigree, or for that matter, display any distinctive qualities of terroir, the coveted association between a distinguished vineyard site permeating through the wine. The French would have you believe this only takes place in France and many consumers blinkered by wine status believe them.
This hierarchal, top down image problem continues to be the bane of dedicated sauvignon blanc producers that are batting way above the average of the commercial mass-market labels, and there lies the challenge. Convincing the wine consumer that their painstaking work in the vineyards, dramatically lower yields and in some cases, large or smaller oak fermentation and maturation along with considerably more attention in the winery, is worth paying that bit extra for.
Tement is the quintessential example of sauvignon blanc pedigree moreover, the most conclusive proof of the variety displaying terroir, defining several single vineyard plots within their property and vinifying individual wines that distinctly express the temperatures of different vineyard aspects and complexity of the limestone and schist soils on sloped terraces that were once a coral reef formed over 20 million years ago.
In the same way burgundy producers can make distinctly different wines coming from vines only a stone’s throw from each other, Tement admirably achieves this with an intriguing diversity of bouquet and flavor profile between each wine.
I had initially selected the Tement 2008 Sauvignon Blanc “Steirische Klassic – Styrian Classic” as a Must-Have Wine of the Week, so impressed by the concentration, power and length of this wine and any wonder when your cropping sauvignon blanc around 2 tons per acre (most Marlborough producers would cringe at this these sort of cropping levels, relying on anything from 5 to 10 tons per acre!).
However, when Arno presented the new vintage 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Klassik, tasted alongside the single vineyard wines, overwhelmingly delicious and breathtaking in its power and nervy tension, yet salivating in its juiciness and share drinkability – hypothetically speaking, half way between Sancerre and Marlborough – it seemed more relevant to cover the current vintage.
My note reads
Lifted bouquet of zingy nettles and fresh mints, fresh cut apples, sweeter aromas of gooseberry, passion fruit and mandarin-citrus notes amongst pronounced wet rock minerality (from decomposed schist and clay soils) and a spicy white pepper-Laksa leaf lift. Racy sharp lemon bite greats the palate fleshing out quickly to tangerine and mandarin citrus with a tantalizing succulence yet throughout a nervy and vivacious wine with a steely backbone and incredible intensity of flavor, finishing bone dry with a chalky, sea saltiness and extraordinary length.
A brilliant wine for freshly chucked oysters, would also keep up with the feistiest tom yum soup or curry Laksa but frankly, I would keep a couple of bottles in the fridge at all times as a refreshing all-round guzzler! (S$53)
The single vineyard wines were so impressive in their complexity; I am including my notes on these:
2008 Grassnitzberg Sauvignon Blanc (S$65 – outstanding price/quality rapport)
From the coolest part of the vineyard as it loses the afternoon sun due to forest shadow with a marked diurnal temperature between day and night. Soils are pure limestone with visible decomposed shells and crustaceans from the 20 million year old coral reef. Restrained, brooding perfume of pears and fresh cut apple with intriguing hints of red current; there’s a little grassiness-fresh snow pea aroma although this gives way to grapefruit and citrus tones.
Conversely, the palate is powerful and noticeably more viscous than the Klassic and strikes one immediately as serious wine with textural slipperiness and infused minerality reminiscent of wet pumice and limestone buildings on a rainy day.
Whilst initially quite tight and apply in flavor profile, it becomes much fleshier with grapefruit juiciness and a wonderful smoky, pork fattiness (perhaps from the subtle contact of large oak that it has) but also a flinty, gun-smoke nuance and very much like a Pouilly Fume. So impressive in its length and power I have a Thai green chicken curry in mind, or Balinese BBQ fish with all the spices, chili and lime meshing nicely with this invigorating wine.
2008 Ziregg Sauvignon Blanc (S$97)
From a much warmer spot that bastes in the evening sun, the middle ‘sweet spot’ of the vineyard slope with more marine sedimentary top-soils and compacted limestone sub-soils. Grapes are selectively harvested in several picking runs and the wine ferment and matured in large and small oak with a distinct white Bordeaux appearance.
Custard apple and vanilla custard notes, dried banana leesy nuances, the perfume continually building more tropical nuances with pineapple and passion fruit although lifted and balanced by fresh mints and elements of spiciness and pork-fat smokiness, just like Chinese roast pork.
Noticeably textural-viscous palate, juicy, peachy-nectarine flavors building in tanginess with grapefruit-citrus and almost overwhelming in power with formidable cool-mint acidity balancing the overall richness and assertiveness of the wine and giving it incredible length. An idiosyncratic sauvignon blanc that has a track record of ageing 15 years or more and it this stage of its evolution, attractive as it is, simply needs at least 5 years in bottle.
Tement wines are available in Singapore through direct importer ewineasia, www.ewineasia.com Trade enquires to email@example.com Also available in Singapore at specialist merchant Artisan Cellars www.artisan-cellars.com
For more information on Tement and suppliers worldwide, visit www.tement.at