New wave sauvi­gnons

The re­cent crop of “al­ter­na­tive styles” will help Marl­bor­ough de­velop from overnight sen­sa­tion to a re­spected wine re­gion, writes John Saker.

The Dominion Post - Your Weekend (Dominion Post) - - Drinks -

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.

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