Subtle Sauvignon Blanc

By | 10/08/2010
There is no doubt that NZ can make world class sauvignon blanc and winemakers have perfected the art of producing vibrant, immensely flavourful sauvignons brimming over with passionfruit and gooseberry flavours.  But winemakers are a restless bunch, always looking for a new challenge, and there is a growing number keen to see where they can take the grape next.
Some have gone down the sparkling route (Lindauer Sparkling Sauvignon has come from nowhere to become hugely popular) whilst others have experimented with wild, on-the-edge winemaking; uncultured yeasts, barrel fermentation and oak ageing. These wines, such as Dog Point Section 94 and Cloudy Bay Te Koko are magnificent, but can be something of an acquired taste for palates more used to fruity, pure sauvignons.
Perhaps the challenge lies in making wines that stylistically rival the best that France can produce. Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé are benchmarks; restrained, minerally and fully dry with the added bonus of being wonderful food wines.
This week I was in Tauranga for a NZ v France tasting.  We tasted the wines blind and I was sure the Martinborough Vineyards wine was French because it was subtle, elegant and very appealing. A bottle of Spy Valley’s Envoy Sauvignon Blanc was equally delicious; not nearly as pungent as a typical Marlborough Sauvignon but with bags of personality and flavour. Most tasters weren’t aware that NZ does this more understated style but almost all were determined to try more. Don’t get me wrong.  I love exuberant, fruit laden sauvignon blancs but sometimes something a bit more subtle is in order. These emerging sauvignon blancs with their aroma volume turned down and the flavours turned up are a great addition to the scene.
2009 Martinborough Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc : This wine shows Paul Mason is more than just a talented pinot producer. Tasted alongside a Bourgeois Sancerre Mont Damnees it more than held its own. Simply delicious with a strong mineral and citrus spine, the oak providing a very subtle teensy oatmeal/bran biscuit edge and pretty good length too.2009 Spy Valley Envoy Sauvignon Blanc : I have been impressed with the Envoy range which has to date offered some excellent, interesting wines.  When Ant McKenzie, who made the inaugaural Envoy wines left for pastures new, all could have gone pear shaped but it seems that in Paul Bourgeois, the label has found another skilled pair of hands. ( and this despite the Spy Valley website claiming that Paul has a passion for riesling.  I’ll let that one pass).  The 2009 Envoy Sauvignon Blanc has layers of flavour; citrus, fresh rosemary and green apple predominantly and a lovely savoury edge.  It’s hard to write “I drank several glasses’ without sounding terrible, but that is indeed what I did.

2009 Seresin Sauvignon Blanc : 29 different parcels of fruit, some barrel ferment, 20% wild ferment and a touch of semillon all come together to make a magnificent expression of sauvignon; quince, ripe pear, gooseberry and just a hint of oatmeal. A really lovely texture with great palate weight and a succulent dry finish.
And best of all, these wines are pretty sharply priced. $22 for the Martinborough Vineyard wine seems a bargain to me, whilst the other two are not far behind.

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