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Wine of the Week for week ending 17 October 2004
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Saint Clair Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2004
Marlborough, New Zealand

Want some Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc? Shouldn’t be too hard to find. It certainly is an abundant commodity after the 2004 harvest down under. Marlborough produced a cool 60,205 tonnes of Sauvignon Blanc grapes according to the statistics produced at Wine New Zealand's Regional Round Table forum held back in August, up 150% or about 36,000 tonnes on the 2003 total. This is almost as many grapes as the whole of New Zealand produced in 2003 while, with all varieties totalled, this one region produced 95,821 tonnes, almost 20,000 tonnes over the whole country's 2003 total.

Plantings of grapes are progressing at a furious pace in Marlborough and if you drive through the region you'll see vineyards popping up everywhere. Ten years ago there were about 2,000 hectares of vines, mostly confined to the Wairau Valley with a few satellite vineyards in the Awatere Valley further south. Now, as the Wairau Valley reaches saturation and the Awatere Valley has vineyards stretching as far as the eye can see from a vantage point on State Highway One, grapevines are taking over the hills that separate these valleys as well. There were 8,000 hectares of producing vines this year and this is predicted to expand to 10,000 hectares by 2006.

2004 was a challenging vintage in some respects. After a late budburst, spring was warm and dry and it was a typically hot summer that saw record high temperatures in January. But uncharacteristically cool wet weather hit the region in February and people had to find their woolly jumpers and raincoats in what is normally the hottest, driest month of summer. All the natural irrigation had the vines relishing and producing full yields. It stopped raining in March allowing the crop to ripen without pressure and after a chilly start to April, harvest commenced after Easter. Reports came in that producers were pleased with the quality and quantity of the harvest.

So with so much supposedly good Sauvignon Blanc from the vintage hitting the market, it was just a little disappointing to see just four gold medals awarded to our most famous wine style from our most famous region at the 2004 Liquorland Top 100 International Wine Competition. Sauvignon Blanc received six gold medals in total with Nelson and Gisborne (yes, Gisborne!), also taking a gold medal each.

But that competition was judged at the end of August, perhaps just a little too early for some of these new release wines. Labels that were expected to do well, simply didn't. But there are some sleeping giants out there and some are just starting to hit their straps, as I found out when I lined up about 20 new release Sauvignon Blancs for evaluation.

I found one sleeping giant that had fully woken up and elsewhere in the line up it had a sibling that was still rubbing sleep out its eyes but would be fully awake in the next month or so.

Top wine of the tasting was the Saint Clair Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2004, a wine that epitomises Marlborough at its best. Light in colour with loads of delicious pungent and fruity sauvignon scents and that love it or hate character that is likened to sweat, this is generous, ripe, rich and varietal with ripe fruit, gooseberry, herbs and citrus overlain with tropical fruit on the grassy finish. Very balanced., powerful but not overpowering, this is a lovely rounded wine with everything in the right place. I like the cut grass smokiness that comes through on the finish. Delectable Sauvignon Blanc that is ready to drink now. It carries 13% alcohol, 3.9 grams per litre of residual sugar and has a full retail of $20.95.

So what about that sibling? I was not too surprised to find it was the Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2004 that had been pipped at the post by its sib because this is a wine that always comes into its own further down the track. With crisp zingy, citrussy and herbaceous scents overlain with a muskiness and bright, zingy, refreshing flavours with lots of lovely green summer herbs, gooseberries and tropical fruit coming through on the powerful citrussy finish, there were many similarities about the two wines. And though I also scored this gold medal status I thought it still has to rub that sleep fully out of its eyes. This is a wine that is no stranger to accolades and I predict we'll be seeing plenty of those in the months to come. This wines carries 13% alcohol, 4.5 grams per litre of residual sugar and has a retail of $25.95.

Find out more from Saint Clair website.

Just a quick mention of the 3rd placed wine in the tasting, the Villa Maria Private Bin Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2004. This juicy, flavoursome, classic Marlborough style is the entry level wine from the Villa Maria stable so lookout for some super stars from the Villa Maria Cellar Selection and Villa Maria Reserve ranges that at this stage have been held back for release.

Read more 2004 Sauvignon Blanc reviews on my Sauvignon Blanc pages.

© Sue Courtney
10 October 2004

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