I have a very love-hate relationship with Sauvignon Blanc. It’s mostly 90% hate- 10% love. I’ve been scarred by warm and pungent New Zealand “plonks” in the UK, where they are very popular. It is the varietal we seem to love best here in SA, with many trespassing ever so slightly into the heavily grassy category for my palate. But the right wine imbibed at the right time can create something wonderful.
This is where Nitida comes in. I took a blind chance on their 2013 Sauvignon Blanc at my local bottle store and never looked back. Sadly, most Sauvignon Blancs I taste never live up to that combination of elderflower and wet stone minerality – acid and fruit in perfect harmony. This year’s vintage has a wholly different character (2014 was a crack a jack harvest) – green apples, oats with a bit of creaminess on the palate. True of all Nitida’s white wines is their perfect balance in acidity: zingy and refreshing without the heart burn or bitter aftertaste.
To make consistently great wines you need two things: awesome terroir and an awesome winemaker. Nitida has both. Set in the Durbanville Hills – which has a Terra Rossa, aka red clay soils that are good at retaining water – it is a cool wine growing area which is afforded cooling sea breezes and mist from the Atlantic. It also has a high altitude which also contributes to great flavour: cooler temperature = longer hanging times on the vines for the grapes = better flavour development inside the grapes and thus the wine.
Besides a cracking Sauvignon Blanc – for which the Durbanville area is famous – Nitida makes a Weisser Riesling, Semillon, Chardonnay and White Bordeaux Blend: Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. The latter is unusual in that the Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc wines were fermented in barrels together – hence the name Coronata Integration – rather than being blended after fermentation.
Into the reds. The Pinot Noir is super light, berry-ish and also that alluring earthiness which one normally picks up in the Chilean Pinots. Calligraphy is their Bordeaux blend. A bit like Sauvignon Blanc, one sees Bordeaux blends everywhere – they can be excellent, but many can be far too heavy and tannic. Nitida’s is a light medium bodied one (manageable during the day time sun), with just the right level of tannins to be good on its own or with food – what more does one want for braais?
But the one I really want to talk about is the Wild Child. This is a Sauvignon Blanc from 2014 still to be release, with a difference. Standard Sauvignon Blanc production is carried out in reductive conditions, i.e. with no oxygen. This is to prevent the chemicals that give wine its flavour from reacting with oxygen and being lost. Sauvignon Blanc’s flavour chemicals happen to be even more reactive than other wines. Sauvignon Blanc also has very poor affinity for oak, which explains why one never sees Wooded Sauvignon. Until now.
Wild Child has been 100% fermented in oak, 45% of that being new French oak (the newer the oak, the stronger the “woodiness” and all those other oaky flavours like caramel, smoke and spice). The wine is pressed with grapes still on the bunch with the yeasts that occur naturally on the grapes left there to cause. It is not clarified/filtered before fermentation – like they usually are. Winemaker Brendan Butler took the plonk making rule book and went and did the opposite. The result is a Sauvignon Blanc to woo anyone with a wild streak – even the Sauvignon Blanc haters out there.
Family owned by the Vellers – Bernhard and Peta – Nitida really is a family affair, a labour of love and fun – everyone from the vineyard workers up is cherished and valued. As much as possible is done by hand – vineyard maintenance, grape picking, grape sorting and even the punching down of grapes, although done by machine, emulates manual labour.
One has to admire Nitida’s unapologetic vigour, sense of humour and enthusiasm. In their words, their wines are: “elegant without being insipid, bold without being aggressive and high quality without being over-wooded”. The Durbanville Hills await.