August 11-New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

Back in June, we tasted Sancerre, a French old world style Sauvignon Blanc. Today, we’ll try a Marlborough new world version of this white grape. While the French versions tend to exhibit more minerality, the cool climates of Marlborough impart lively, sharp acidity, gooseberries, tropical fruits and herbaceousness. They also show an unmistakable smell of ammonia, which may sound off putting but is a revered quality for those of us that adore this sipper. There are numerous regions in New Zealand that produce this varietal but Marlborough has become synonymous with it, and for good reason. Marlborough accounts for about 89% of all wine produced in NZ. 

Sauvignon blanc’s first plantings in New Zealand were in 1969 but wine has been produced in the country since the 19th century. In 1969, Ross and Bill Spence planted some clippings of Sauvignon Blanc at their family’s winery, Matua (which has subsequently been sold and is presently owned by Treasury, the owners of brands such as Beringer, Penfolds, and 19 Crimes). Ross had gone to oenology school in Fresno, California. While in the US, he tried Sauvignon Blanc and believed it would grow well in New Zealand. He then cultivated lab plantings of the grape at Villa Maria Winery in 1973. In 1974, the Spence brothers produced the first commercial vintage of Sauvignon Blanc. This bottle caught the attention of other winemakers and viticulturists around the area, including Wayne Thomas of Montana Winery. In 1973, Montana (now known as Brancott Estate) wanted to expand their territory from Hawke’s Bay, located on the southeast portion of the North Island, to Marlborough, the northernmost point on the South Island. They produced their first vintage of the grape 1979. In the mid 1980’s, the government began paying growers to rip out vines because of an overabundance of less desirable grapes and replant with the new to them, much more profitable, Sauvignon Blanc. This, coupled with an outbreak of phylloxera, helped replant much of the wine growing territories on the North and South Islands. In 1985, a little known company, Cloudy Bay, began producing their first wine. They were the first with a large global imprint, which helped bring tremendous notoriety to the wines of NZ. It helped that their wines are consistently high quality and delicious! In 2010, Kevin Judd, the original winemaker of Cloudy Bay, began his own label, Greywacke. Today, Sauvignon Blanc accounts for about 63% of all grapes grown in the country.

This week, I debated which wine to feature, my favorite or my workhorse. Since I couldn’t decide, we’ll sample them both along with garlic prawns! First, the 2019 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc is a pale lemon color that smells of fresh pineapple, white grapefruit, guava, green grass, gooseberry, with a faint note of ammonia. On the palate, this dry, light bodied wine has crisp acidity with moderate alcohol. Complex flavors of honeysuckle, lemon pith, green pineapple, lime, dragonfruit, fresh cut green grass and green apple dance with each sip. When paired with the prawns, the acid sliced through the butter sauce. The level of acid from the lemon juice in the dish balanced the level of acidity in the wine. The cooked garlic and sweetness of the shrimp accentuated the fruit notes nicely while the parsley showcased the fresh cut grass. Next was the 2019 Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc. This glass is slightly brassy in color but exhibits similar watery legs that run down the sides of the glass. It also has a faint effervescence compared to the still Cloudy Bay. This wine emits smells of white peach, white grapefruit, dried pineapple, papaya, fresh cut grass and passionfruit. On the palate, the level of acidity is a bit more tame but still edgy. This glass, while similar to the previous wine, still has some distinct differences like key lime pith and slightly under ripe pineapple. The shared qualities in the wines allow for similar pairing notes as well. Overall, both bottles paired nicely with the prawns while being delicious in their own right. 


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