There's something quite unique about Sauvignon Blanc that I don't really find in other wine styles. It's some kind of aftertaste phenomenon that snaps you out of the doldrums and makes your palate come alive. It happens perhaps 30 or 40 seconds later after the wine is tasted, then Kapow! The mouth is suddenly filled with this explosion of flavour - a flavour that just grows and grows and grows with passionfruit and citrus and herbs and alcohol sweetness and a vibrant pungency with the fruit and herbs fighting each other for supremacy.
There are some sauvignon blancs that are scintillating from the outset with their flamboyant aromas and vibrantly vivacious flavours - then carry on with the phenomenal aftertaste - these are the top, top wines. But when it happens with a wine you initially thought quite ordinary, you know the wine has potential. It's got some of the essential x-factor which takes it to a level higher.
So just what is going on? I heard a word for it once upon a time but it has escaped my memory banks. I started googling but that only marginally helped. But I did come across an interesting tutorial on the sense of taste that told me as taste travels across the tongue, we evidently detect salt, then sweet, then sour, then umani, then bitter. The taste receptors are stimulated then fade away. But then there could be some kind of 'transmitter release' that is responsible for this aftertaste phenomenon.
I've heard the aftertaste ( in French 'arrière-goût'), which is also sometimes called 'after flavour', described as the 'farewell', but in the case of some of these Sauvignon Blancs, it is more like 'I'm baaaaack'. It's like a reflux, which sounds rather gross, but in the case of good Sauvignon Blanc, it is anything but. In fact it can be sensational when the taste is full of passionfruit and tropical fruit with a balancing acidity and all sorts of other interesting things. It is one of the quality traits I look for in Sauvignon Blanc.
But it's only part of the Sauvignon Blanc taste experience.
So just what am I looking for in New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc? This is a question I ask myself every time I line up glass after glass to taste.
- First of all I am looking for a clean, well made wine. By this I mean a wine with no faults and a wine where all the components are in balance.
- Secondly I am looking for varietal correctness that pertains to the grapes that the wine is made from - in this case Sauvignon Blanc. Never mind if it has oak or extended lees aging that add other flavours to the wine, the Sauvignon Blanc character still has to shine through.
- Thirdly I am looking for a wine that is, to borrow a phrase from Bob Campbell MW, "a moving picture rather than a snapshot". So it has to start with its looks, then its aroma, then its taste, flavour and impression, the concentration, impact and length of the wine and in the case of Sauvignon Blanc, that aftertaste phenomenon.
- Lastly I am looking for a wine that I would like to drink and with Sauvignon Blanc, this is easy, because I enjoy drinking Sauvignon Blanc.
So I put these criteria on the tasting sheet when I tasted 25 Sauvignon Blancs this weekend just past. There were Sauvignon Blancs from different regions within New Zealand and there was stylistic variation throughout. Some were fully oaked, some had subtle oak, and others were totally oak-free zones. Others had richness from aging on yeast lees, or from the use of wild yeasts. Others were totally fruit driven styles.
I was very pleased by my consistent judging because the wine I liked best came top of its flight and then top wine overall in the recall flight. It was also the wine I picked as my favourite when I tasted the gold medal winning Sauvignon Blancs from the Air NZ Wine Awards.
It is the Matua Valley Paretai Sauvignon Blanc 2007 from Marlborough.
My short description of this wine is, "impeccable balance and power with a slippery texture and gorgeous ripe fruit expression".
Now for the long description - "Incredibly pale, just the lightest tint of straw, this smells tantalising and fresh with a myriad of aromas that suggest ripe tropical fruit, summery herbs, day lily flowers, capsicum and even a suggestion of 'sweat'. Lemon and grapefruit tease the palate then the incredibly rich oily slippery texture becomes the key focus of attention. Flavours of grass, passionfruit and melon combine in harmony. Love the way the bright acidity is balanced to the zesty fruit sweetness. It's not too sweet, not too dry, just impeccable power and balance, but most of all, purity. Great flavour throughout. Great after flavour too. It's a wine with jazz and pizzazz!"
With its $28 price tag, Matua Valley Paretai Sauvignon Blanc 2007 is on the top shelf, price wise. But it's a sensational wine and worth it. It's sealed with a screwcap and has 13.5% alcohol by volume. It should be widely available because Matua Valley is now owned by Fosters, but if you can't find it, check out www.matua.co.nz.
© Sue Courtney
26 Nov 2007