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edited by Sue Courtney

Six of the Best
New Zealand vs. South African Sauvignon Blanc tasting Redux

© Sue Courtney
September 2003

In February 2003, a unique wine tasting occurred when a panel of tasters gathered in Auckland, New Zealand to taste 12 Sauvignon Blancs, 6 from New Zealand and 6 from South Africa, while in a tasting room in Capetown, South Africa another panel tasted exactly the same wines.

It was the occasion of the second great New Zealand versus South African Sauvignon Blanc and it's all recorded here on

It was a good result for both countries. New Zealand won the taste-off with the Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2002 from Marlborough a unanimous winner after being awarded top place by both tasting teams. The New Zealanders preferred the New Zealand wines and placed 5 of them in their Top 6. But the South African Fleur de Cap Limited Release Sauvignon Blanc 2002 was the second favourite of the South African tasters and on a count back of points it came into second place overall.

As Wines of South Africa had sent two bottles of each wine to New Zealand for the original tasting in February and because no back-up bottles needed to be opened, I decided to hold a follow-up tasting. It would be an opportunity for some of the local winemakers to look at the wines that some overseas critics say are challenging New Zealand in the international market.

My first invitation went to Emmanuel Bolliger, a South African who has only been in New Zealand for about 18 months and is now resident at Rongopai Winery in the Waikato. Emmanuel was previously winemaker at Cape Point Wines, one of the wines represented in the tasting - in fact Emmanuel fermented the 2002 wine before leaving South Africa for his first vintage in New Zealand. Emmanuel offered to host the tasting and I accepted. I had an ulterior motive, for Rongopai Wines is based in the old Viticultural Research Station established by Romeo Bragato 100 years before. It would also be an opportunity to 'have a look around'.

So several Auckland winemakers gathered at Rongopai on the 9th September for the redux.

While the wines were tasted blind, the wines were not religiously scored by all tasters - as in the first tasting - but instead provided the opportunity for these Sauvignon Blanc producers to judge for themselves the quality of South African Sauvignon Blanc and how it stood up to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc in a blind tasting.

The casual results, however, had New Zealand once again on top.

Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2002 was the top wine. Three tasters picked it as their favourite while others said it was their second. It was my personal favourite.

Palliser Estate Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc 2002 harnessed as many votes as the Saint Clair for top wine but one winemaker (not the South African) damned it, saying it was overly sweaty and sulphidic, the fruit lacking and the sweaty characters dominating.

Villa Maria Clifford Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2002 took two votes for top wine. The wine is slowly developing. It is at the more acid end of the spectrum, something they were purposely aiming for according to Villa Maria winemaker Phil Spilman, who attended the tasting. However it builds beautifully on the palate and the finish is long.

Fleur du Cap Limited Release Sauvignon Blanc 2002 was the top South African wine. It is a powerful ripe style with mouthfilling flavour and terrific length. It was liked by all tasters and voted second or third overall by most. It may have emulated the combined results of the original tasting by coming into second place, if the tasting had been more seriously scored. It was my third favourite wine.

Most tasters also liked the Cape Point wine. I found this to be quite a shy, delicate style as in its first showing but with an enrichening power.

Cloudy Bay showed well with lemony and slightly peasy flavours dominating the flavour but a lovely richness of texture in the palate.

Stoneleigh also showed reasonably well to me but several winemakers considered this 'too commercial' style and out of place in the tasting today. I found that sweet notes on the finish made it a little toffee-like.

Springfield 'Life from Stone' caused some discussion but did not fare well with some of the tasters, who did not like this style. It replicated the earlier results.

Neil Ellis appeared dull and flat, steely and acidic with underlying gooseberry traits. However it was not corked.

Two bottles were corked - the Havana Hills and the Zondernaam.

The Wither Hills wine was not fairly represented. It was a vintage older and its developed character showed in the tasting. Tasters were warned there was one wine that was a vintage older and they all picked this as the wine.

So it was a worthwhile exercise and finished with a light lunch before the taster headed back along the highway to Auckland.

Here are my notes on all the wines, in the order tasted. Wines were tasted blind.

1. Fleur du Cap Limited Release Sauvignon Blanc 2002
A pungent and vivaciously tempting sauvignon blanc aroma leads into a lovely mouthfilling drink with a powdery texture, concentrated green melon, melon, gooseberry, lemon and lime fruit and good mouthfilling length. A powerful ripe style.

2. Neil Ellis Sauvignon Blanc 2002
A little dull after the vivacious Fleur du Cap. Lacks on nose, more delicate body, greengage, citrus, gooseberry traits. Steely.

3. Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2001
A developed style. Lots of green vege peasy, asparagus characters. Good texture indicates quality but just starting to become a little oxidised. Everyone picked this as the older wine.

4. Villa Maria Reserve Clifford Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2002
Lemon, lime, youthful fruit, oily texture with apple, pear, limes. Some gooseberry richness developing. Spicy full palate though not as exuberant as No.1. Powdery, pithy lemon, a little nutty and grassy, brassy finish. Persistent and long.

5. Havana Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2002
Cork taint spoilt this wine, though one taster found rich fruit below the taint. is.

6. Palliser Estate Marinborough Sauvignon Blanc 2002
Slightly sweaty nose, so typical of NZ. Green and grasssy, fleshing out with melon, passion fruit and stone fruit. Nice body weight and good development. A little peasy. Full and long. Ripe end of spectrum.

7. Springfield Estate 'Life from Stone' Sauvignon Blanc 2002
Rip Citrus, melon, stonefruit, gooseberry, tobacco and mush. There's a lovely richness and a subtle, powerfulness. Grapefruit hints on finish. Good texture and length. Plenty of body.

8. Cape Point Sauvignon Blanc 2002
Grassy, powdery, citrus dominates, earthy notes, it smells a little lollyish on nose, green angelica. Ripe style with a spicy richness.

9. Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2002
Exuberant nose, rich powerfyul, sweaty fruits orange, melon and underlying classic Marlborough herbaceous. Silky and smooth. Beautiful.

10. Cloudy Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2002
Lemon dominates the flavour but builds to a full richness in the palate. Classically Marlborough.

11. Zondernaam Sauvignon Blanc 2002

12. Stoneleigh Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2002
Quite delicate in palate, cf. to the others. Lemon again with a powerful build-up. Sweet notes on finish make it a little toffee-ish. Powdery, spicy, lifted and a little nutty, showing signs of development to the taste. Other tasters called this a 'commercial' style and out of class to the others.

It was interesting to be able to repeat the tasting and the quality of the top wines shone through.

Sue Courtney
15th September 2003

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