Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2017/18 Elgin


From 129 South African rand, €10.20, £10.90, $18.79, SG$31.50, 126.60 Danish krone 

Find the 2017

Some things in life are inherently satisfying: the pop of a cork, the scent of a bonfire, the flavour of breast milk lollipops. (Erm, apparently.) 

Anyhoo, added to that list is tasting a wine that is not only good value and widely available, but also one of the very best in its class. The wine that satisfies all these criteria is a rare beast indeed, and makes for the ideal wine of the week.

Iona Sauvignon Blanc is hardly a new discovery, but the track record of its previous vintages only reinforces its credentials as a benchmark Sauvignon that deserves a place in the canon of best-buy stalwarts alongside wines such as Guigal Côte du Rhône, Viña Ardanza Rioja and Tio Pepe Fino.

I reacquainted myself with Iona's wines this month on a visit to South Africa for Cape Wine, the triennial trade fair. I could have recommended any of the wines in their range, but their Sauvignon Blanc qualifies for two important reasons.

The first is stylistic. Since the advent of the Marlborough model, which transformed the wallflower of Sancerre into a hedonistic party animal, much Sauvignon Blanc has become ever-more excessive. Fruit flavours grew more confected, as did sappy methoxypyrazine character, and sweetness started creeping in to offset any bitterness. While there are still plenty of well-balanced examples being made, the original charm of many Sauvignon Blancs was lost.

Iona Sauvignon Blanc captures that charm: the ripe gooseberry fruit which defines the variety is unmistakable, but it retains an all-important savoury sensibility on the palate, as well as a chalky, flinty character reminiscent of the Loire. There is a sort of soft-focus elegance to the structure that makes it compellingly drinkable for casual drinkers, and grace notes of spice and hops for anyone paying closer attention.

The lightness of touch is thanks partly to hands-off winemaking (other than the inclusion of 4% Sémillon and 6% barrel fermentation, it is vinified to conventional standards), but surely owes more to the vineyard location in Elgin, the cool region to the south-east of Cape Town. In between passing clouds of mist, I took the below picture of one of their vineyards one week ago today. This cool climate, thanks to an elevation of around 400 metres (1,310 ft) above sea level and prevailing winds off the cold Atlantic ocean, accounts for the layered nuances of their Sauvignon Blanc – as indeed it does for their other wines.

The other reason to recommend Iona Sauvignon Blanc is much more pragmatic, but just as important as the wine's intrinsic quality, if not more so.

A common theme of the Cape Wine event was the economic unsustainability of many of the region's wine producers and grape growers. Estimates vary, but this recent video states that 35% of producers made losses in 2017, and that only 14% were comfortably profitable. The reasons for this bleak assessment are inevitably complicated, but one of the key factors is very simple: that the low prices paid for most South African wine is hobbling the industry.

True, that is hardly the consumer's concern, but Iona Sauvignon Blanc represents a model that produces a delicious wine at a good price, while at the same time facilitating much-needed investment in the people and quality potential of the South African wine industry. At around £11 in the UK, this Sauvignon Blanc has a quality-to-price ratio that far outstrips most of its peers, be they from the Loire, Marlborough, Chile or anywhere else. 

So not only is Iona Sauvignon Blanc one of the best in its class for both quality and value, but it proves that South African wine can command a price that can sustain the wine industry. And that's inherently satisfying too.

The 2018 vintage seems to be available only in South Africa at present, while 2017 is available in several export markets, and is sold by The Wine Society in the UK. There are also quite a few back vintages apparently still on sale around the world, which are also well worth checking out. This is not a short-term Sauvignon.

Find the 2017