The success of the New Zealand wine industry is based solely on one variety – sauvignon blanc. Sure there are plenty of other varieties grown in New Zealand and our winemakers have developed a huge reputation worldwide for the quality of most varieties they turn their hand to but without sauvignon blanc the world wouldn’t know about or rieslings, pinot noirs, chardonnays, syrahs, merlots, sparkling wines or the many other wine styles produced here. Make no mistake, sauvignon blanc is the backbone, the workhorse and shining star of New Zealand’s wine industry. It accounts for more than 50% of all vines planted and more than 50% of all wines made here, but not every sauvignon is the same; if you buy a sauvignon blanc made in Marlborough then chances are it will have very similar characters, but if you buy one from the Awatere Valley or the Wairau Valley you will find the base sauvignon characters of freshness and zesty acidity are the same as those from the Waihopai Valley but the flavour profiles are quite different.
Comparing sauvignon from these sub-regions is like comparing Nelson sauvignon blanc with Marlborough sauvignon blanc – the same variety but different flavours because the climate and soil structures they are produced in are different.
When we drink sauvignon blanc I think we expect one of two styles, either ripe tropical fruit based characters or juicy gooseberry characters but there are also many variables on these base flavours. Winemakers have been trying to make something that stands out from the crowd by employing a few winemaking techniques to change the texture of the wine and create subtle flavour differences. Fermenting or aging the wine in old oak barrels or letting the wine sit on yeast lees for a while adds a touch of richness to the texture of the wine while letting the grapes ripen a little longer on the vine will soften the acidity noticeably. The trick is making sure the wine still tastes like sauvignon blanc from New Zealand.
One of the latest party tricks winemakers have pulled from the hat is to make a sparkling sauvignon blanc. Again this can be made in a number of styles, medium styles made from riper fruit can have tropical fruit characters and other flavours just like standard sauvignon - but with bubbles. Harvest the fruit less ripe and with lower sugar levels as is done when making champagne and you will find the wine is dry with quite firm herbaceous characters.
In 2008 not only was the vintage challenging because of the weather but it was a huge, record setting harvest. In 2011 we have seen another huge sauvignon blanc crop but this time the quality of the finished wines has generally been outstanding. A number of great examples have crossed my doorstep this year so check out my blog regularly for more of my thoughts on 2011 sauvignon blancs.
I have been drinking
12,000 Miles 2010 Pinot Noir – RRP $26.00
Rich cooked black cherry flavours are balanced beautifully with charred oak and a touch of herbal spice. Made by Gladstone Vineyards in the Wairarapa region the wine is a delightful expression of regional characteristics with a little help from the winemaker to turn it into something quite delicious.
Maui Sauvignon Blanc – RRP $17.00 - $18.00
This strolled away with the trophy for best sauvignon blanc at the 2011 New Zealand International Wine Awards. Made from Marlborough fruit this has everything a great sauvignon needs – crisp, zesty yet juicy acidity that comes from perfectly ripe fruit and then layer after layer of flavour in the palate. From bright gooseberry to lush pineapple and passionfruit. A real treat. Check www.tikiwine.com to find out more.