Wine lover’s paradise
If you’re a lover of NZ savignon blanc, then Nelson and Marlborough is where you should head, writes Andrew Stafford
Ifirst got to New Zealand about three years ago and one of the few things I knew about the country in advance, other than the beautiful scenery and the sheep, is that it is where you can find some of the best sauvignon blanc in the world. Specifically, in Marlborough and Nelson - New Zealand’s sunniest spots, where most spare blocks of land are covered by trim, neat lines of grape vines stretching into the distance.
When I first reached the region, I fell in love with all of it and decided that I had to find a way to live there.
As luck would have it, I found a job for the grape harvest working for the Delegat Estate, creator of the world famous Oyster Bay brand, as part of the team creating that year’s wine. Spending three months working night shifts making sauvignon blanc in one of the region’s largest wineries is certainly one way to learn a bit about the wine, and an even better way to sample some of it.
Meeting some of the fantastic and knowledgeable winemakers there taught me a lot about the region’s most famous export and I really don’t think that there is a better way of spending a sunny New Zealand afternoon than at the top of the South Island enjoying a crisp glass of ‘Sav’, as the Kiwis call it.
Samuel Marsden, an Anglican missionary, made the first recorded planting of grapevines at the Bay of Islands in 1819. While the first grapes in Marlborough were actually a muscat in 1873, that venture eventually failed and the first grapes planted in the region as we know it were in 1973. Locals originally scoffed at the idea of grapes being planted in Marlborough, but those original pioneers were determined that the dry, sunny weather and variety of soil types were perfect for growing grapes. Turns out that they were spot on. Fast forward to 2017 and Marlborough grows 68 per cent of New Zealand’s grapes and it is home to more than 100 wineries - not a bad turnaround!
In the words of NZ Wine: “Pungently aromatic, New Zealand sauvignon blanc assails the senses with red capsicum (bell pepper) and gooseberry characters through lush passionfruit and tropical fruit overtones, other notes include fresh cut grass, tomato stalks, grapefruit or limes.” As an internationally acclaimed wine, you would be letting yourself down if you visited New Zealand without enjoying a glass or two
The nation’s favourite wine is best matched up with seafood, shellfish and salads, making it the perfect summer wine, perhaps after a day fishing in the Marlborough Sounds or hiking the Abel Tasman track.
Perhaps the best way to experience sauvignon blanc in the region, along with the equally magnificent pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot gris varieties is to head on a tasting tour of the area; whether you are in Nelson or Marlborough there are ample options.
Head to the local iSite or to www.gotravelnewzealand.com to check out a few of the local operators and get an idea of a route, whether you fancy cycling your way round (the Taste Trail in Nelson is perfect for that), self driving (don’t forget to ask for a spittoon in the winery and never drink and drive) or going with a guided driver.
The cellar hosts are always interesting and knowledgeable, so don’t hesitate to ask them all about the wine you are trying - they are there because they love it and will always be able to throw some facts your way. Most of all, enjoy the wine and maybe even send a crate home and serve it up at a dinner party - your guests will not be disappointed.
Samuel Marsden, when planting those first ever vines 200 years ago, observed that “New Zealand promises to be very favourable to the vine”.
He seems to have hit the nail on the head!