I am a massive fan of Vermentino whether grown in the Italian regions of Liguria, the Maremma, Corsica and Sardinia or down in Provence in the sun-baked South of France where it is generally known as Rolle. This maiden Vermentino release from the hugely talented young gun Sakkie Mouton is certainly an unusual grape to find produced in South Africa but is also an inspired choice for his electric (and eclectic) style of winemaking.
Like Sakkie’s highly sought-after Revenge of the Crayfish Chenin Blanc, this wine is sourced from a tiny patch of Vermentino vines grown on sandy soils in Koekenaap planted in 2017, located 15 kilometres from the cold Atlantic Ocean. For me, one of the most exciting aspects of Sakkie’s winemaking is that whatever grape variety he chooses to turn his hand to, you can be assured that the end result will reflect the regional terroir of Koekenaap almost more intensely than any individual expression of the grape variety. The unwaveringly maritime and saline characteristics of this barren coastal terroir up the West Coast has become almost synonymous as Sakkie Mouton’s signature style and these particular Vermentino grapes are located no more than 600 metres away from his Crayfish Chenin Blanc vineyard with its decomposed sandstone soils with pockets of limestone which lend great minerality and low pH’s to the finished wines.
The Vermentino grapes for this 2021 maiden release actually form part of a complex viticultural story with vines planted originally by Vinpro as part of a programme of small batch experimental vineyards developed around interesting viticultural areas to see if these experimental varieties might work on a more commercial scale. Similar projects today see Vinpro planting Assyrtiko vineyards to assess their future potential, but not to be confused with Gary Jordan who has pioneered this variety in South Africa and is already on his third tranche of vineyard plantings in Stellenbosch!
An animated story for sure but as Sakkie points out, Vermentino did not eventually crack the nod from Vinpro as growers immediately saw that the variety would not produce sufficient yields and the extraction process for Vermentino subsequently proved way too difficult for commercial purposes with lower than expected juice yields.
But with Sakkie ignoring adversity, the grapes from this micro vineyard were hand harvested early in the morning, then taken to a cold room facility for cooling. The grapes were foot trodden as whole bunches in an old basket press with the juice being transferred to cold settle for 12 hours in a stainless steel tank. The clear juice was then racked into 228 litre barrels to ferment naturally. The finished wine was aged on its gross lees for four months with regular stirring of the lees. After four months in the 228 litre barrels, the wine was racked into 500 litre barrels for a further two months of aging. Nothing was added to the wine except sulphur before bottling. The wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Sakkie Mouton Family Wines Sand Erf Vermentino 2021, WO Koekenaap, 12.5% Abv.
8.2 TA | 1.0 RS | 3.12 pH
This delicious Vermentino expression, like many of the best premium old-world styles offers up an intense, complex aromatic array of crunchy white pears, green apples and white peaches all underpinned by a pronounced stony crushed rock minerality. Give the glass another swirl and yet more aromas of lime peel, honeydew melon and tangerine waft out the bowl. With Vermentino’s higher than usual phenols, the palate shows a delicious green almond bitterness that melts into a mouth-watering melange of glycerol pink grapefruit, pear pastille and freshly cut fennel which bears pronounced maritime notes of rock salt and tangy citric acids. Medium bodied but displaying an almost creamy texture, this wine is both generous and bracing all at the same time, confounding the palate with its profound salinity. If there is one thing that Sakkie Mouton is good at, it is making articulate white wines that challenge the senses before ultimately seducing them with effortless harmony, freshness and balance. Simply delightful to drink now, but with several more years of ageing, this wine will undoubtedly start to show more of its true Vermentino DNA with notes of floral-infused honey, chamomile and toasted almonds. The question is however … can you resist the temptation of the wine’s current youthful allure!? (Total production 620 bottles)
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Postscript: I opened this bottle at fridge chilled temperature and tasted continuously over 4 hours without returning the bottle back to the fridge. The gradual release of additional flavours, sensations of concentration and an amplified salinity with a searing acidity were very impressive. In the same way a serious white Burgundy does not need to be returned to ice, this wine just unfurled continuously, and I encourage drinkers of this wine to serve it chilled but also to allow it to warm up a little so that it can fan its peacock tail!