New wave sauvignons
The recent crop of “alternative styles” will help Marlborough develop from overnight sensation to a respected wine region, writes John Saker.
Twenty years or so ago there were real fears that the Marlborough sauvignon blanc express was headed for derailment. It was not an unreasonable line of thought. When property speculation, rather than the bottled product, becomes a central motivation for investing in a wine region, the words “market bubble” start to resonate.
Questions were being asked about the wine, too. It was embarrassingly easy to make, yet very profitable. How long could such a wheeze last, especially as wine markets are driven by fashions and trends as much as anything?
You only had to look at the example of the popular German white wines of the late 60s and early 70s. Blue Nun and Black Tower, once ubiquitous, crashed and burned almost overnight.
Sorrows certainly came to our largest wine region after the GFC and the unexpectedly large, indifferent 2008 vintage, but ultimately Marlborough sauvignon blanc proved to be a resilient infant. The doomsday scenario never materialised.
How so? Because it has something Blue Nun, Mateus and the like will never have: a distinct sense of place.
It says a lot about Marlborough’s remarkable terroir that this “somewhereness” can shine through despite overcropped vines, chemical-prone farming and recipe-driven winemaking.
Today, Marlborough’s status has shifted from overnight sensation to established wine region. The level of respect it will attain depends on how things evolve from here.
An encouraging development is that more wine producers are showing a more inquisitive attitude towards the grape that made the region world famous. The shorthand for what they are doing is making “alternative styles” of sauvignon blanc.
These are considered wines. They offer a very different experience from the racy, grassy “classic” style of sauvignon. Lower crop levels and techniques such as barrel fermentation give these new wave wines weight, texture and less obvious (but more fascinating) flavour profiles. They also perform very well alongside food.
These alternative sauvignon blancs are deservedly getting a lot of plaudits. Just don’t expect them to take over the region any time soon. The classic Marlborough style still makes too much money for too many people for that to happen.
TRY THESE Greywacke Wild Sauvignon 2015 $37.95
This delightful wild fermented sauvignon fair crackles with energy. White peach, apple and gooseberry flavours are underpinned with fine acidity and a flinty seam, which adds to the texture and drive.
Nautilus The Paper Nautilus Sauvignon Blanc 2016 $35
This wine is all about texture – a mouthfeel that is both resistant and creamy. It runs tight lines, offering nectarine and yellow fruit notes along the way, and resolves with a dry, mouthwatering finish. A great example of what Marlborough can do.