New Zealand Sau­vi­gnon Blanc

The con­sis­tent wines of Marl­bor­ough still tick all the boxes for fans of this style, says Bob Camp­bell MW, but the range of other re­gional ex­pres­sions is de­vel­op­ing too

Decanter - - CONTENTS -

93 wines tasted Plenty of lively, crunchy fruit in ev­i­dence and en­gag­ing styles from Marl­bor­ough and beyond

NEW ZEALAND SAU­VI­GNON Blanc can be di­vided into two parts. The larger and indeed more com­mer­cial por­tion is con­sis­tent and dis­tinc­tively fruity, with pun­gent, crisp goose­berry, cap­sicum and pas­sion fruit flavours. Marl­bor­ough is by far the ma­jor source, although other re­gions pro­duce sim­i­lar styles. This is dis­tinct from the ‘fine wine’ side of NZ Sau­vi­gnon Blanc – typ­i­cally more in­tense, while of­ten show­ing a greater sense of place and a stronger wine­maker sig­na­ture. A group of Marl­bor­ough wine­mak­ers are in the process of reg­is­ter­ing a distinc­tive logo that they hope will dif­fer­en­ti­ate su­pe­rior wines from oth­ers.

Marl­bor­ough Sau­vi­gnon Blanc is distin­guished by a con­trast of trop­i­cal fruit with grassier, more herbal flavours. If you are able to visit a Sau­vi­gnon Blanc vine­yard in Marl­bor­ough shortly be­fore har­vest, find a bunch of golden grapes that are well ex­posed to the sun. Pluck a grape and pop it into your mouth. It will taste quite sweet, with pas­sion fruit and other trop­i­cal fruit flavours. Now turn the same bunch over to its shaded un­der­side and taste an­other grape. It’s likely to be less sweet, more acidic and have grassier, greener flavours such as goose­berry, green cap­sicum and tomato leaf. When that bunch is picked and pressed, those con­trast­ing flavours give it a distinc­tive fin­ger­print that I call the ‘yin and yang’ of Marl­bor­ough Sau­vi­gnon.

Ex­tra di­men­sions

Flavours can be ma­nip­u­lated by pluck­ing the leaves to al­low more sun ex­po­sure on the shaded side of the bunch – a tech­nique that helps to ex­plain the grow­ing num­ber of top wines with a nar­rower range of flavour pro­files as wine­mak­ers chase greater in­di­vid­u­al­ity.

Wines from a sin­gle sub-re­gion can also achieve a nar­rower band of flavours and a stronger state­ment of style. An in­creas­ing num­ber of Marl­bor­ough Sau­vi­gnon Blanc are be­ing la­belled as sub-re­gional wines (Awa­tere Val­ley, Wairau Val­ley and South­ern Val­leys), ad­ding di­ver­sity par­tic­u­larly at the up­per end of the mar­ket.

The num­ber of wines with an oak in­flu­ence is now grow­ing. A small pro­por­tion, say 10%, of oak-fer­mented and -ma­tured wine can add rich­ness with­out com­pro­mis­ing the wine’s in­tense va­ri­etal aroma. Wines with overtly oaky char­ac­ters, such as Cloudy Bay Te Koko, are a small but grow­ing sub­set. Sim­i­larly wines with funky, re­duc­tive, struck-flint char­ac­ters such as Dog Point, Sec­tion 94 add ex­tra in­ter­est to the cat­e­gory, although they still make up a mi­nor­ity.

If you en­joy di­ver­sity it’s worth try­ing the lusher wines of Hawke’s Bay and the Wairarapa, and the sleeker, tang­ier wines from Nel­son, Waipara and Cen­tral Otago. Any­one claim­ing New Zealand Sau­vi­gnon Blanc is bor­ing sim­ply needs to taste a wider range of wines.

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