The row of glasses of Sauvignon Blanc, from several winemaking regions in New Zealand, was lined up along the table. In the company of each other, no wine stood out particularly over another in the aromatic stakes. But when it came to the taste, it was clear that some were better than others. The top wines were called back and when the ranking had been made, the bottles were unveiled to reveal a who's who of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc producers. There was Saint Clair, Dog Point, Cloudy Bay and the wine I had chosen as Number One in my mini tasting of 17 Sauvignon Blancs, Astrolabe 'Discovery' Awatere Sauvignon Blanc 2008.
This was the one wine in the line-up that needed no work to write tasting notes, it was the one wine you could sniff and taste and the descriptors just flowed. It had that extra radiance amongst the stars.
Astrolabe Discovery Awatere Sauvignon Blanc 2008 is distinctly New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on the nose. It has that rich, citrus-infused passionfruit scent with a herbaceous kind of twist. In the mouth the wine is rich, juicy, mouthfilling and fresh with a vivacious tropical fruit and vibrant lime/citrus/summer herb undercurrent and the fruit becoming quite distinctly passionfruit with a touch of freshly cut pineapple, a hint of nectarine and some classic gooseberry notes coming through. With a very, very, long finish, the fruit is definitely the hero in this wine.
The grapes for this wine were grown in Marlborough's Awatere Valley by Geoff and Rachel Van Asch at Dashwood Corner Vineyard and Guy and Jane Lissaman at Trelawne Farm Vineyard in Seddon. The fruit was fermented in stainless steel tanks at low temperatures with a fairly neutral yeast to let the natural and powerful fruit flavours dominate. It has 13.5% alcohol by volume and is sealed with a screwcap. It costs around NZ$23.
Simon Waghorn is the winemaker and I had the privilege of judging Sauvignon Blanc with Simon at this year's NZ International Wine Show. I now know I am totally in tune with his Sauvignon Blanc palate (or he is with mine) as our scores were consistent across the three flights of Sauvignon Blanc wines we judged. He says he doesn't enter his own wines in competition any more. But perhaps he means in New Zealand, because in September this year, at the London International Wine and Spirit Competition, Astrolabe Voyage Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (approx NZ$19.95) was awarded a gold medal and IWSC Trophy for Sauvignon Blanc Trophy from the field of allcomers. This is not the same wine as I am reviewing here. The IWSC winning wine has a black label and is made from a blend of Wairau, Waihopai and Awatere Valley fruit. I loved this wine when I tasted it at Wine New Zealand on the 2nd September alongside the Discovery wines - it was vibrant and fruit forward then and it is definitely worth seeking out now.
The Discovery wines have a green label and are those that Simon describes as providing focus and clarity on Marlborough's fast-emerging sub-regions - in this case of this week's Wine of the Week, the Awatere Valley. There is also the Astrolabe 'Discovery' Kekerengu Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (approx. NZ$26) from a Marlborough vineyard much further south. Simon is looking to express regional and sometimes vineyard specific characteristics in the finished wines.
Looking back at the notes on my blog - this Astrolabe Awatere Sauvignon Blanc 2008 has simply blossomed in the bottle over the last seven weeks. There is nothing shy about the wine now. With the extra bottle age, I consider this week's Wine of the Week, to have an extra depth of complexity, and of course an on going 'discovery' in every mouthful. I rate it 19.5/20.
Match this wine to new season's baby (ie. thin) asparagus tips, served raw, and wrapped in a cocoon of a basil leaf and tomato. It's also brilliant with a myriad of other food too.
Find out more from www.astrolabewines.co.nz.
© Sue Courtney
20 Oct 2008