Sil­ver lin­ing

There’s more to Cloudy Bay than a drink­able glass of chilled sauvi­gnon blanc, writes James Suck­ling

Hong Kong Tatler - - Life -

loudy bay isn’t taken se­ri­ously by most peo­ple, but it should be. I doubt many of the thou­sands of ice-cold bot­tles drunk in cool bars are ever con­sumed with much rev­er­ence or thought. The fa­mous sauvi­gnon blanc of New Zealand has be­come syn­ony­mous with white-wine-cock­tail chic for many. I am sure it fu­els all sorts of chat­ter and fun, which in the end is what wine should do for the most part. Yet I think the white de­serves more re­spect.

I went to a small tast­ing in Oc­to­ber in Lon­don for the 35th an­niver­sary of Cloudy Bay and I was sur­prised by how well the wines age. The 1987, made just a few years af­ter the first vin­tage, was a stylish old white that showed ripeness and rich­ness, with lots of dried fruit such as apri­cots and pineap­ples. It was lay­ered and per­sis­tent on the palate, and still of out­stand­ing qual­ity. Mean­while, the 1998 was also pretty amaz­ing. It smelled like a ma­ture dry white Bordeaux with can­dle wax, sliced ap­ple and lemon, and un­der­tones of liquorice and aniseed. Maybe I was be­ing too gen­er­ous, but I rated it 93 points.

I ex­pected the pinot noirs to show pretty well and they did. The hand­ful of dif­fer­ent vin­tages, in­clud­ing 1998, 2001, 2003 and 2010, de­liv­ered plenty of the plum, smoke and light earth char­ac­ter one would ex­pect in a high-qual­ity pinot noir. It’s funny that peo­ple have not caught on to the high qual­ity of the Cloudy Bay pinot noirs, both from the Marl­bor­ough and Cen­tral Otago re­gions. But it’s easy for the wines to get lost in the shuf­fle with so much sauvi­gnon blanc be­ing made at Cloudy Bay—some say as many as 1.6 mil­lion bot­tles per year, but the win­ery has never con­firmed this.

It was only a few years ago that I vis­ited Cloudy Bay and other pro­duc­ers on the South Is­land of New Zealand. I re­mem­ber fly­ing into Marl­bor­ough Air­port in a small plane from Welling­ton and land­ing in what seemed to be a sea of vine­yards sur­rounded by dis­tant moun­tains. It made me aware that most of the sauvi­gnon blancs from the area are com­mer­cial whites made from high-yield­ing vine­yards and in­dus­trial winer­ies. Un­for­tu­nately, th­ese wines have be­come syn­ony­mous with New Zealand wine for many con­sumers. I can’t drink them. They taste too con­trived and con­vo­luted. Some are also too sweet. Luck­ily, top names such as Dog Point, Greywacke and Cloudy Bay are com­pletely dif­fer­ent and prove that the Marl­bor­ough re­gion makes world-class wines with sub­tle aro­mas and flavours, and dense and firm struc­ture.

Cloudy Bay wine­maker Tim Heath touched on how the brand is making real wine in Marl­bor­ough. “Peo­ple are think­ing less about aroma and more about flavour. We are look­ing at struc­ture now. This is the fu­ture. We need to look at the struc­ture and ar­chi­tec­ture of the wine. It’s less about va­ri­etal char­ac­ter.”

In­deed, I found his lat­est release—2015 Cloudy Bay Sauvi­gnon Blanc Marl­bor­ough— prob­a­bly the best ever from the win­ery, with lots of dried pineap­ple and grape­fruit aro­mas and flavours, a full body and a tangy fin­ish. It had won­der­ful zest and acid back­bone, and I rated it at 93 points.

Whether any­one really cares about how good the wine is, I can’t com­ment, but I’m sure they’re lov­ing it at var­i­ous classy bars.

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