White Cab, White Merlot, White Pinotage… not your typical Rosé or Blanc de Noir

Asara White Cab 2014 (cropped)THE TERMS Rosé, Blush and Blanc de Noir describe ‘white’ wines made from ‘black’ grapes, grapes that are actually red in colour… Typically they involve a gentle pressing of the grapes, limiting the time that the juice and the skins spend in contact with each other, and then proceeding with production along similar lines to wines made from ‘white’ grapes, grapes which actually range from green to yellow in colour… With Blanc de Noir or Blush, the juice is usually separated from the skins very soon after the grapes are crushed, keeping skin-contact to a minimum. In the case of Rosés, the juice is left on the skins for just a short time but long enough for the skin tannins to impart colour to the wine. Sometimes the juices from black and white grapes may be blended together at the early stages of making a Rosé – whereas Blanc de Noir is always only ‘white from black’ – and in rare instances a small percentage of red wine is added before bottling a Rosé…

So similar are the processes that Rosé is used as a collective term for Blanc de Noir, Blush and Rosé, with the colour of the wine in bottle ranging from various shades of pink to peach to salmon to onion skin virtually colourless. But the story doesn’t end there… There are some white wines made from red grapes that are presented as quite different from the ‘pinks’ and which lean more heavily on the varietal in being marketed as White Cabernet, White Merlot and White Pinotage, say.

Meinert 2013 Italian Job packshot (smaller, cropped)Take ‘The White Cab’ from Asara in Stellenbosch, a Blanc de Noir from Cabernet Sauvignon with the 2014 selling for R60 a bottle at the cellar door. Believed to be the first of its kind in South Africa, this is simple quaffing stuff from a Bordeaux variety that’s a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. That it could be vinified as a white wine seemed obvious to the winemaking team, who use a single vineyard to come up with a very limited release – around 700 bottles – of their speciality Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc.

More serious on the palate and pocket is the The Italian Job (White Merlot) from Martin Meinert in Devon Valley, Stellenbosch. The producer was selling the 2013 vintage for R160 a bottle to family, friends and loyal customers – fewer than 2000 bottles, an acquired taste, modelled on the Chardonnay-style Merlot Bianco made in the southern (Italian) part of Switzerland. “It’s a wine difficult to describe,” says Meinert. “Delicate rose petal and strawberry whiffs… flinty, buttery, almost salty… Needs quite rich food, sublime with smoked salmon risotto…”

Beyerskloof - Copy of Beyerskloof Chenin Blanc - Pinotage (smaller, cropped)And there’s the Beyerskloof Chenin Blanc Pinotage – a work in progress, you could say. The 2014 is refreshing and easy drinking, good for the poolside, parties and al fresco lunches at R55 a bottle from the cellar in Koelenhof, Stellenbosch. “Lingering finish with resonating fruit, acidity and mineral aftertaste… Perfect companion to light summer dishes and seafood.” However, the next vintage due for release in August/September 2015 will be a rather different ‘White Pinotage’ – a four-way blend of Chenin and Pinotage together with Cinsaut and Pinot Noir – expected to sell for between R65 and R80 a bottle. Can’t wait!