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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

New Zealand's Hallmark Sauv Blanc

Sauv Blanc landscape in New Zealand
Sauvignon Blanc (SB) owes a lot to New Zealand.   Before the 1980’s it was barely on a wine lover’s radar screen.   Yes, it was part of my much beloved Bordeaux whites (a combo of SB and Semillon), in addition to the Sancere and Pouilly-Fumé from the Loire Valley, but the grape’s name never appeared on any of these French labels.  It wasn’t until New Zealand started producing well-priced, well-crafted SB as a single varietal and labeling it as such that the wine world took notice of the grape.
SB currently accounts for >50% of all the vines in New Zealand.  First planted in the Marlborough wine region on the south island, the variety has now spread to the north island and is particularly popular in the Hawke’s Bay wine district.   Wines from the more temperate Hawke’s Bay tend to be softer and less herbaceous than its southern counterparts.  As I’m not a great lover of the herbaceous profile, I tend to prefer those from Hawke’s Bay, although winemaker styles can definitely influence the product.

New Zealand SB’s have been said to be “like a child who inherits the best of both parents----exotic aromas found in certain Sauvignon Blancs from the New World and the pungency and limy acidity of an Old World Sauvignon Blanc.”  (Mark Oldman in his Guide to Outsmarting Wine).    On our recent trip to New Zealand this sentence rang true.  The lush SB aromas I so love (melons, tropical characters and lime) were mixed with crisp acidity, fresh-cut grass nuances, and even tomato leaf flavors.   Formed from a series of underwater volcanos, New Zealand’s volcanic-rich soil contributes a lovely minerality.  A definite Old World meets New.

Here’s a recap of my top 3 scoring best buy SBs (all under $30) from New Zealand in alpha order:
·        Fromm 2011 La Strada:  great citrus mélange

·        St Clair Pioneer 2011:  terrific finish

·        Terra Vin 2010:  floral & mineral love-fest

Those going on next year’s tour to New Zealand will have the opportunity to taste all of the above SB’s, as well as many others.  Moreover, you will visit both the north and south island to experience first-hand the stylistic differences of their different terroirs.

While Sauv Blanc may have put New Zealand on wine map, Pinot Noir is now the country’s new darling. Stay tuned for next month’s article on the world-class Kiwi Pinots.





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