Marlborough is the benchmark for sauvignon blanc in New Zealand, in fact some people think that Marlborough sauvignon blanc is now the benchmark for the world. Mmmm, I'm not sure what some of the long standing Loire producers would say about that. But you have to admit in just a few short years in the long history of wine, Marlborough sauvignon blanc has made an impact on wine drinkers perhaps like no other wine before it. It's the exuberance, the punchiness, the mouthfilling flavour and the fruitiness that makes it stand out. And then after it's been swallowed you don't feel short changed because the aftertaste goes on, and on, and on.
The word Marlborough is invaluable on a bottle of New Zealand sauvignon blanc but it can only be used on wines produced from the Marlborough region, which is about 85% of the sauvignon blanc we produce. So what of the savvies from the rest of the country, the other 15%. Are they a lost cause if the countries we export to want only Marlborough? I decided to gather up all the savvies I had from other regions and find out.
There were 24 wines in all, from Auckland, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay, the Wairarapa, Nelson and the Waipara Valley in Canterbury. Plus there was one wine from the Curico Valley in Chile, a wine that comes here in bulk and is bottled under the Robard & Butler label. They needn't have bothered because it absolutely reeked with sulphides. It got tipped down the sink.
So did some of the others, poor wines, badly made, one was undergoing secondary fermentation in the bottle and two 2004 wines with corks were badly oxidised.
So what of the rest? Did any have a distinctive Marlborough character? No, not really. But then some wines that come out of Marlborough don't have that character either. It just depends where in Marlborough they come from.
What I was looking for was wines that screamed 'sauvignon blanc' to me, nothing too dilute, nothing too riesling-like and nothing that was overly sweet. They didn't have to be Marlborough-like either. They just needed to be sauvignon blanc.
My favourite wine, the Anchorage Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2006 (13.5% alc, $18, screwcap), came from Nelson. When the labels were revealed at the end of the tasting, I was not that surprised because I had tasted their other sauvignon blanc, the non-reserve, back in February
(click here for my blog review) and that was a little ripper. This reserve labelled wine is not so exuberant and that's probably because it has a little oak. There are hints of capsicum on the nose that merge with citrus in the palate. Sauvignon's expected richness fills out the palate and grilled stonefruits linger on the finish. It's full-bodied with a soft, almost oily texture with fruit sweetness strumming along on the pungent aftertaste. A powerful statement of Nelson sauvignon blanc and easily the best of the 2006 wines.
Clearview Reserve Hawkes Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2005 (13.5% alc, $22, screwcap) made a really profound impression as well and was the outstanding flight in the first flight of four 2004 wines and six 2005 wines. It's light yellow gold with green glints. On the nose it shows a slightly developed mellow character with funky yeasts, vanilla and stonefruit. It's rich and complex in the palate with underlying melon and stonefruit. Well-balanced, tasty, buttery and long, this barrel-fermented wine is caressingly aged in oak for 11 months with weekly lees stirring. There's 9% semillon in there as well.
But in the taste-off, it was the Anchorage that came through on the day.
Also worth mentioning are the following ...
Te Mania Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2006 (12.5% alc, $18, screwcap) is a lovely fresh wine with a citrussy aroma and a tropical fruit flavour with pineapple to the fore and stonefruit on the finish. Not so pungent but quite juicy with a clean zesty finish and a rich, juicy aftertaste.
Gladstone 12,000 Miles Wairarapa Sauvignon Blanc 2006 (13.5% alc, $17, screwcap) from the Wairarapa also came up well. This had a pungent, capsicum and slightly sweaty (B.O. aroma) with apples to the fore in the palate - toasted apples, spice and zesty citrus with a rich Sauvignon backbone and a long, ripe, sweet-fruited pungent finish. A wine with lots of flavour and a bit of that sweet and sour thing going on as well.
Matua Valley Matheson Hawkes Bay 2006 (13.5% alc, $19, screwcap) was up there too. A richly flavoured wine with weight from aging on yeast lees, there's grassy notes amongst the pineapple and tropical fruit and the finish is long and pungent with some grapefruit characters emerging.
Then for something right out of left field, there was the Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Semillon 2004 (13.5% alc, $25, screwcap) from Waipara. The wine has a little age and it really showed that with its gemmy, light yellow gold colour. Grapefruit on the nose carries through to the bright zesty palate. It's a powerful wine with a mealy undercurrent and sweet vanilla on the long, juicy finish with melons and stonefruit on the aftertaste. With fermentation from wild yeasts, this is a blend of 80% tank-fermented sauvignon blanc and 20% barrel-fermented semillon, the left field component comes from the influence of aged semillon, which adds a rather unusual and vinously fascinating petrolly note to this wine that is now almost three years old.
There's plenty of interest from savvy other than Marlborough as this tasting showed. It's just depends what the person who is drinking the wine, wants.
© Sue Courtney
26 Mar 2007