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Wine of the Week for week ending 7 November 2004
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Matua Valley Paretai Sauvignon Blanc 2004
Marlborough, New Zealand


Lying in the long grass
in the paddock
under the shade of the old apple tree
by the bank of the river.
The water whispers
as it spills over rocks.

It is a hot summers day
and the air is heady
with the scent of fresh cut grass.

He's stopped mowing now
and jumps over the fence to join me,
tipping the cuttings from the catcher
into a pile by the fence
on the way.

He brings exotic fruits
passion fruits
with a squeeze of Tahitian lime.
They taste delicious
filling the mouth with a burst of flavour,
the balance of sweetness to the citrussy acid
exquisite and perfect.
The juiciness is mouthfilling
and the crisp flavours are intense
and when the fruit fades
the smoky cut grass scents
fill the air again.

It's a marvellous thing
this glass of wine,
this glass of intoxicating
Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

© Sue Courtney, 31 October 2004

* * * * * * * * * *

Marlborough sauvignon blanc and sauvignon blanc in general is such an entrenched part of culture and lifestyle in New Zealand it is hard to believe that only as recently as 30 years ago there was only one New Zealand sauvignon blanc being commercially produced. Not that anyone was interested in buying it back then, however, because how do you sell something new to a nation of fortified wine and rough red drinkers who were just discovering another new white, the sweet and floral Muller Thurgau? The crisp, dry, high acid sauvignon was strange tasting and such a contrast in style.

Ross Spence, a man of innovation and pioneering spirit and the creator of that first sauvignon blanc, fortunately was not deterred. The wine that he called Matua Valley Sauvignon Blanc displayed the unique attributes that he was looking for.

Ross had planted sauvignon blanc vines in his Matua Road vineyard in Kumeu, north of Auckland City, after returning from studying viticulture and wine making in California. There were other varieties too but sauvignon blanc was the grape he persevered with and while the public were not interested other wine producers, who wanted to move away from the fortified styles and rough reds, were.

One producer was Montana Wines, who had just established their now famous vineyards in Marlborough. Though Muller Thurgau was their mainstay, after sourcing sauvignon blanc vines from the Auckland vineyard and making a trial wine in 1979, they knew they were onto a good thing. Montana was a big company and after producing the wine in commercial quantities, they were able to take New Zealand sauvignon blanc to the world. It took the British to tell us what a gem we had discovered and the rest, as they say, is history.

Sauvignon blanc has never looked back and its popularity is such that it is by far the country's most planted grape variety, more than double of anything else.

Ross Spence gets a huge thrill whenever he travels to a new country and sees New Zealand sauvignon blanc in the shops and restaurants.

Matua Valley is now fully owned by Beringer Blass and Ross is semi-retired, which means he doesn’t come into work every day. He still lives in Matua Road, however the winery moved a few kilometres north to the Waimauku Valley about 25 years ago and the sauvignon blanc vines planted then by Ross and his brother Bill, are some of the oldest in New Zealand.

However like all great wine companies expansion is necessary to keep up with demand and so Matua vineyards in Marlborough were established and initially marketed under the Shingle Peak sub-brand.

One of the most recent of Matua Marlborough's developments is the Northbank Vineyard, on the northern banks of the Wairau River on the road to Havelock and it is here the Matua Valley Paretai Sauvignon Blanc is sourced from. There were signs of the potential of this vineyard with the first release of Paretai in 2003, but then the grapes were blended with some from the Awatere further south.

The Matua Valley Paretai Sauvignon Blanc 2004 is made from 100% Northbank grapes and is even better, I think, that last year's beautiful rendition. It is powerful and fruity and has everything you want in Marlborough sauvignon blanc, and more. My poem says it all.

The wine carries 13.5% alcohol by volume, has high acidity of 8.2 g/L balanced by a touch (2.7g/L) of residual sugar. It's not cheap, however, at around $28 a bottle. But it is definitely worth it.

Delicious on its own, it a great accompaniment to summer food, imagine slow roasted tomatoes, roast asparagus with walnuts and shaved parmesan, grilled goats cheese wrapped in prosciutto, slow cooked pork belly with dukkah spices and pickled melon, or oven baked fillets of salmon. However the piece de resistance is definitely snapper fillets grilled with the skin on, served with fennel, capsicum and tomatoes.

Find out more from the Matua Valley website.

© Sue Courtney
31 October 2004

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