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The Latest Innovative Wines From Alvi’s Drift Including a “Cheeky” Sauvignon Blanc

Alvi and Junel van der Merwe share personal insights into our new wines, from a "cheeky, cheerful" Sauvignon Blanc to an award-winning Brut Cap Classique.

“2021 was a brilliant year for us here at Alvi’s Drift,” says winemaker Alvi van der Merwe. “The 2021 vintage yielded beautiful wines bursting with fruit.” True to form, Alvi jumped at the opportunity to innovate and create a brand-new wine: the Alvi’s Drift 221 Sauvignon Blanc, launching in September 2022.

Known for creating interesting, exceptional value-for-money wines, Alvi’s Drift has in recent years been thrilling tastebuds (and winning a few awards, too) around the globe. In this article, Alvi and his celebrated Cape wine master wife Junel share insights not only on the new 221 Sauvignon Blanc, but also on the 2021 Signature Viognier (crowned best Viognier in South Africa in 2022) and on the new Brut Cap Classique, launched in 2021.

Alvi's Drift winery
Alvi and Junel van der Merwe: “2021 was a brilliant year for us here at Alvi’s Drift.”

Up till now, only the Alvi’s Drift Signature and Reserve ranges carried Sauvignon Blanc wines. What was the motivation to add a Sauvignon Blanc to your 221 range?

Junel: Sauvignon Blanc is a very popular grape variety, especially in our country. It is the loved grape of South Africa. So, it made sense for us to add this cultivar to another one of our Alvi’s Drift wine ranges.

Alvi: With our 221 Sauvignon Blanc, we tried to create something that could live between our Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, which is a more elegant, barrel-matured wine, and our entry-level Signature Sauvignon Blanc, which is a fresher, more fruit-driven wine.

For our 221 Sauvignon Blanc, 30% of the wine in each bottle is aged in French oak barrels. The remainder of the wine is beautifully fresh, fruit-driven wine from our stainless steel tanks.

Junel: Our 221 range is one of the more recent ones within the Alvi's Drift portfolio, and our 221 Sauvignon Blanc really offers white wine enthusiasts the best of both worlds. Charm, elegance – it's got a little bit of grandness about it.

What can we expect of the first Alvi’s Drift 221 Sauvignon Blanc?

Alvi: Our Sauvignon Blanc grapes from the 2021 vintage produced a creamy style of wine with hints of lanolin, fuller wines that fill the entire mid palate.

Junel: Our first 221 Sauvignon Blanc is a beautiful, well-balanced wine. On the nose, it has tropical, almost melon-y notes, with hints of granadilla. On the palate, the wine is beautifully creamy and coated. Nothing too heavy, with the fresh, tropical fruit flavours coming through. The wine has a lovely, zippy finish, a sort of lemony zest that reminds you there is something about Sauvignon Blanc as a varietal that is acidic, cheeky and cheerful.

Alvi: I would say our 221 Sauvignon Blanc has a similar texture to our Chenin Blanc wines, but with a different flavour profile.

As Sauvignon Blancs are often thinner, more acidic wines, and Chenin Blancs are bolder wines, our 221 Sauvignon Blanc is something in between. It is a big, bold wine, but those characteristic Sauvignon Blanc flavours are still very much present.

What dishes or foods would complement your Alvi’s Drift 221 Sauvignon Blanc?

Junel: Any type of grilled white meat would pair well with our 221 Sauvignon Blanc. I wouldn’t recommend smothering this wine in anything too creamy. Rather stick to grilled chicken and seafood such as fish, calamari, and prawns, maybe served with a bit of lemon butter. Just be careful of adding too much garlic to the lemon butter, or any other sauce, for that matter. Doing so will burn away the wine’s elegance.

Also consider simply enjoying this wine al fresco with a nice slice of baguette and chevre, fresh goat’s milk cheese. Simple and delicious.

Tasting Alvi's Drift wines
“Alvi’s Drift Signature Viognier offers incredible value for money.”

Alvi’s Drift’s 2021 Signature Viognier was recently crowned best Viognier in South Africa in the 2022 Viognier Challenge. What’s the significance of this award?

Alvi: Obviously we are pleased about the recognition that comes with our Signature Viognier taking first place in this challenge.

In terms of the award’s significance, I’d say it proves that our Signature Viognier offers incredible value for money. In the 2022 Viognier Challenge, we were up against Viogniers that were barrel matured, wines that retail for more than double the price of ours. And here we come with a wine that’s bottled fresh, that costs less than half of what the other wines in this challenge cost. And we were crowned best Viognier in South Africa.

So, yes, we’re pleased, and it’s certainly an excellent wine. But in terms of significance, I’d say incredible value for money – that’s really what winning the 2022 Viognier Challenge signifies for us, and for lovers of Viognier.

Try our recipe for ravioli with Alvi’s Drift Signature Viognier as an ingredient.

Viognier is not a wine that one often sees on local retail shelves. What was your motivation for adding Viognier to Alvi’s Drift’s portfolio of wines?

Junel: Producing our Viognier wine wasn’t a strategic decision at all. It was purely motivated by Alvi’s passion for this varietal. Traditionally, Viognier is mostly used in wine blends, both red and white. For us, initially, it was a challenge to market this wine. People couldn’t pronounce its name. As producers, we found you really had to educate people about Viognier.

But Alvi fell madly in love with the wine, and then planted 30 hectares of Viognier. There were people who thought this was a crazy thing to do.

But here we are today, with a fast-growing local Viognier market, and our 2021 Signature Viognier taking first place in South Africa’s Viognier Challenge 2022.

Can you share more about your Viognier vineyards?

Alvi: We have Viognier vines planted in different soil types, and also on various rootstocks. The first Viognier vines here were planted on granite hills. Later, we planted some in sandy and alluvial soils. We find that our Viogniers from vines growing on the granite-based soils are fuller in flavour, while the Viogniers grown on sandy soils yield more elegant wines.

Alvi’s Drift Signature Viognier won eight Gold / Double Gold / Great Gold wine awards in 2020 and 2021 alone. To what do you ascribe this wine’s success?

Junel: If I can attribute our Alvi’s Drift Viognier’s success to anything, it would simply be Alvi’s passion for the wine. He planted Viognier at a time when there was really no established market for it in our country. Today we’re one of the largest in-bottle producers of Viognier in South Africa.

Tell us more about the 2021 Signature Viognier in terms of taste and flavour?

Alvi: Our 2021 vintage Viognier is really spectacular. It’s an incredibly complex wine, with so many layers of fruit and flavour.

I can’t give away our winemaking recipe, but we’ve been tweaking the wine’s vinification process and our 2021 vintage is really something else.

Regarding the wine’s mouthfeel and nose, I’ve been picking up a lot of fresh coriander, and then there are notes of tropical apricot that cut in with a beautiful vanilla flavour. This wine always has a soft finish, because of the relatively low alcohol level. The layers of complexity in this wine – it’s just remarkable.

Junel: In my opinion, Alvi has come very close to perfecting this wine. I’ve tasted so many Viogniers that simply fail to impress. This wine bursts of aroma, it’s a very fruit-driven wine, with lots of dried apricot and floral notes. I’d say this Viognier is best enjoyed within the first two years. It’s not a wine that’s meant to mature. It’s meant to be enjoyed while it’s fresh.

You’ve referred to Viognier as “a white wine for red wine lovers”...

Junel: This is something I’ve come to realise over time. By now I’ve seen so many red wine drinkers who, after tasting our Signature Viognier, announce that they’ve finally come across a white wine that is to their taste. This is why we’ve started referring to our Viognier as “a white wine for red wine lovers”.

Have you seen a growing demand for your Viognier?

Junel: As Alvi’s Drift, we are one of the largest in-bottle producers of Viognier in SA.

It is not a simple wine to vinify, but this is precisely what Alvi likes. A challenge, something that he can give a lot of attention to. Because of this passion, I’d say Alvi has come close to perfecting this wine.

Alvi: Initially, the demand for Viognier in South Africa was basically non-existent. Today our winery sells around 200 000 bottles of Viognier in SA every year, which is massive for a category that did not previously exist. At the end of the day, it is just an amazing wine to taste and experience. For me, even just walking past a tank of Viognier in our cellar is exhilarating.

Alvi’s Drift Brut Cap Classique
“We have a strong focus on producing Cap Classique and sparkling wines that are not sweet.”

In 2021, you introduced Alvi’s Drift Brut Cap Classique. What motivated you to add this wine to your Sparkling Wine portfolio?

Alvi: Alvi’s Drift Thornlands MCC was our winery’s very first Cap Classique sparkling wine. It was named after Thornlands, one of the original farms that make up what is today home to our 410 hectares of vineyards (and the area where the grapes for this Cap Classique are grown and harvested). With the launch of our Alvi’s Drift Brut Cap Classique, (kept on lees for 36 months), we wanted to offer our friends a fresher, livelier style of Cap Classique and chose to celebrate this with upgraded packaging. So it is really the same great wine, just fresher, and with some "new pyjamas" on.

Junel: The new name adds more uniformity, as does the new label design. It allows this wine to fit better into our Alvi’s Drift portfolio of sparkling wines.

Tell us more about the vineyards that yield the grapes used to make your Cap Classique wines

Alvi: Our Cap Classique wines are made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. Our mature Chardonnay vineyard grows in the ancient limestone soils that are so characteristic of the Breede River Valley region. Our Pinot Noir vineyards grow on north-facing slopes, with the grapes grown in black slate soil.

Being situated in a cooler-climate pocket (the southernmost reaches of the Worcester district, only 50 kilometres from the Atlantic ocean), our wine ward, Scherpenheuwel, has been classified Winkler Summation II, the same as France’s Bordeaux region. So we are really very well positioned for producing high-quality Cap Classique wines.

We hand harvest our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes early in the season in the cool, early morning hours. This ensures that crisp, fresh acidity so important to producing a great Cap Classique sparkling wine.

Learn more about the unique climate and terroir of Alvi’s Drift winery.

Junel: When it’s harvest time, Alvi will always harvest the Chardonnay grapes for our Cap Classique wines first, as they still have that nice, high acidity that is required for the champagne method. To bring the fruit, Pinot Noir grapes play a beautiful role, it gives us these beautiful, fruity cherry aromas.

Alvi likes to play with the lime and greenness of the Chardonnay grapes, these are aroma compounds that will ultimately give you that “bite” into a nice, green apple when you taste the wine. Acidity plays a huge role when it comes to producing these type of wines.

Alvi: This year, I drove around the vineyards on my motorbike in search of grapes that specifically taste like Granny Smith apples. Finding flavours of green apple and citrus in grapes is easy, but Granny Smith apple is something else. It was quite the challenge, but it was something we managed to achieve. Also, just for interest’s sake, when it comes to Chardonnay for our sparkling range, lately we’ve been picking only the green bunches; bunches that never see any sun.

We’ve noticed there are no sweet or semi-sweet wines in your sparkling range?

Junel: Correct. At Alvi’s Drift, we have a very strong focus on producing Cap Classique and sparkling wines that are not sweet. Our dosage is actually extra brut. We just feel that this offers more of a crispness, and makes for more elegant wines.

Alvi: If you have enough fruit and enough complexity in a Cap Classique or sparkling wine, you don’t need to add any extra sugar. Adding sugar will defeat the purpose of what you are trying to achieve.

To what would you ascribe your Cap Classique and sparkling wines’ awards success?

Junel: First off, I have to say that the Cap Classique Producers Association (CCPA) has done an incredible job of reaching out to producers and guiding us through the process of creating high-quality Cap Classique wines. They are experts who know their field incredibly well. We South African Cap Classique producers are playing in a world market now, and if you want to play in this league, you have to produce wines that are world class.

Alvi: Junel mentioned “elegance” just now. From a winemaking point of view, if your wine is not elegant and clean, and you then add bubbles, the bubbles will accentuate and amplify any impurities. We really put in a lot of effort to ensure that we obtain an excellent base wine, before it gets turned into a Cap Classique or sparkling wine.

Junel: It is also important to note that the amount of time that Cap Classique wine spends on the lees is an absolutely vital component in the production of this style of wine. When dead lees cells are present in the bottle, through the process of autolysis, it returns the flavour of the fruit to the wine. Alvi is a strong proponent of these wines spending a minimum of 24 months on lees. This is vital. Because the longer the wine lies on the lees, the more complexity it gains. As a result of our Cap Classique production process, our Brut Nature spends at least 24 months, but sometimes up to 36 months on lees.

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At Alvi’s Drift, our enthusiasm and our shared passion for winemaking carries over into our products. We’re simply passionate about our craft. Every single day we go to work with a deep love for what we do.

To browse and buy our award-winning wines, visit our online shop (free delivery for orders over R1,500).