edited by Sue Courtney
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Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
It's that exciting time of year when the new release sauvignon blanc wines start to pour into the market and I canít wait to experience the crisp, fresh, pungent mouthfilling flavours especially when the winemakers have been hyping up the vintage big time. "Medium alcohol levels, balanced acidity and lashings of traditional Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc characters", said the winemakers from the Nobilo group and certainly the grapes that I nicked off a grapevine as I passed through Marlborough on the cusp of harvest last April, were mighty tasty. Never mind that it rained and rained and rained in February. The grapes at that time were still hard little green nuts so all the wet cold weather did was to delay the April harvest by a week or two.
The opportunity came to taste a bunch of savvies at the first of the season's winery road shows, this one held by Hancocks Wine and Spirit Merchants for their New Zealand and overseas agencies. It seemed that most of my writing colleagues were just as interested as I was in the savvies Ė and so they should be Ė for we traipsed around the room in almost follow the leader fashion.
I dedicated at least the first couple of hours to Sauvignon Blanc, taking my time, tasting and spitting, writing notes, tasting and spitting some more. When I left one stand to walk to the next Kiwi producer that had a Sauvignon Blanc, the powerhouse finish of the one I had just tasted would go on and on. My new wine is poured but I just have to add an additional note of the other one before its memory is blasted away by the new wine's pungent mouthful.
Itís going well. The wines are good in their own special way. I make sure I taste them all, even the ones that arenít from Marlborough and I donít think are going to show very well.
What a surprise I get when I arrive at Gunn Estate, a producer from Hawkes Bay.
Gunn Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2004 Ė wow. A water pale wine, richly pungent on the nose, almost luscious in its vibrant scent of freshly cut grass, gooseberry and tropical fruit. Bright and fresh in the palate with a myriad of flavours from gooseberry, lemon, melon, feijoa to banana passionfruit. A soft, oily, slightly grainy texture, lovely palate weight and terrific balance with the crisp acidity cutting the sweetness of the fruit. Good length and persistence like we expect from New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and a grassy herbaceous pungency as it lingers. Then that 'one minute after' taste, stonefruits and grapefruit peel, capsicum too and perhaps even a hint of tobacco.
"Where is it from?" I asked Dennis Gunn the winemaker, who was manning his stand. I knew that Gunn Estate was now part of the conglomerate that own Sacred Hill and Cairnbrae. While Cairnbrae has always been Marlborough, Sacred Hill based in Hawkes Bay has made a Marlborough savvie for the last couple of years and a couple of years ago, according to my tasting notes, Gunn Estate had a Hawkes Bay/Marlborough blend.
I carry on but after tasting all the sauvignon blancs in the room Ė 2004, some from 2003 and even some from 2002 and some wines more than once. The Gunn Estate was my equal favourite though the other one I liked as well, which was from Marlborough, didnít really count, as it was a tank sample.
I managed to acquire a bottle of screwcap-closed Gunn Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2004 and last night my husband made the most fabulous dinner to accompany the wine. Alongside a roasted corn fed free range chicken he roasted red capsicum, tomatoes, 'apricot' yams, kumara, carrot and potato and for the greens he made a leek and fennel fry-up. This is sliced leek cooked in butter, brown sugar and lemon juice with a sliced fennel bulb added about halfway through cooking. The stalks off the fennel bulb were thrown into the oven for a while and some of the fennel fern was used for garnish. Well you couldnít have a better match for a wine like this Ė so many Sauvignon Blanc friendly foods, especially that roasted capsicum and that yummy leek and fennel fry-up. And the food looked fantastic too with so many different colours on the plate.
The wine didnít disappoint either. I rate it totally delicious and at the price, which has a recommended retail of NZ$15.95 but Dennis said could be as low as $12.95 depending where you buy, it is going be one of the season's bargains.
I can't find a website link for Gunn Estate but the wines shouldn't be too hard to find. Glengarry Hancocks is the agent in New Zealand and they have stores all over the place. And at its price point it is bound to be a supermarket darling too.
Now before I finish I just have to mention one other wine in the room that totally astounded me and that was a Sauvignon Blanc from Australia, yes Australia. It was the Deakin Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2004 and I am sure if it had been poured for me at a blind tasting I would have picked it as being from New Zealand because it tasted so crisp, fresh and vibrant with zingy gooseberry, lemon, melon and herbs. But this wine is made from grapes grown at Sunraysia near the Murray River on the border of New South Wales and Victoria. The reason it was so impressive became clear when it was disclosed that Phil Spilman, previously a winemaker at Villa Maria's Auckland winery, was responsible for this wine. He obviously had a hand in determining when the grapes were picked as well as bringing his wealth of sauvignon blanc experience into this Australian winery. It is sealed with a screwcap and should cost no more than $12.95 at the supermarket, definitely worth seeking out.
Other Sauvignon Blanc reviews from the tasting are on my Sauvignon Blanc reviews page.
© Sue Courtney
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