Sauvignon Blanc for people who don’t like Sauvignon Blanc

Slightly more than half the people who attend my wine courses don’t like Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. The rest love it. That helps explain the curious phenomenon that occurs when I offer them a young Sauvignon Blanc together with an older wine from the same producer. The wines are usually five or six vintages apart. I generally prefer the younger wine but the majority of students vote for the older vintage. I like Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc so I favour the pungent, intensely fruity characters of the more youthful wine.

The older wine tends to be richer and less pungent with softer acidity. At five or six years of age it is starting to develop interesting toasty flavours that mimic oak. It is beginning to look more like a Chardonnay than a Sauvignon Blanc. The older wine suits those who are scornful about Sauvignon.

If you find Sauvignon Blanc too tangy and overpoweringly fruity you might just enjoy a wine with plenty of bottle age. Superior Sauvignon Blanc that’s sealed with a screwcap and stored reasonably well should offer good drinking for more than a decade. Cheap and cheerful Sauvignon (less than $15), on the other hand, can fade fast after a year although that’s not always the case.

Older vintages are often discounted to make way for the latest releases. 2014 Sauvignon Blanc is starting to hit the shelves now. Check out the bargain bin for wines from the equally excellent 2013 vintage.

Oak-aged Sauvignon Blanc is another option for people who cringe at the thought of drinking a wine that English wine writer, Oz Clarke, once described as having “…brash, unexpected flavours of gooseberries, passion fruit and lime, or crunchy green asparagus spears …”. Cloudy Bay Te Koko (tastings) and Dog Point Section 94 (tastings) are oak-fermented, barrel-aged wines that offer the flavour complexity and rich texture of a serious Chardonnay. Both are made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes but neither declares the variety on its front label. Quite right too. They are less about Sauvignon Blanc and more about clever, creative winemaking influence.

Look beyond Marlborough for more restrained Sauvignon Blanc styles that can often appeal as much to Sauvignon Blanc loathers as they do to Sauvignon Blanc lovers. Craggy Range 2013 Te Muna Sauvignon Blanc is the sort of taut, mineral-laced wine that will be appreciated by fans of bone-dry, steely Riesling and edgy young Hunter Valley Semillon. I absolutely love it.

Mt Beautiful 2013 Sauvignon Blanc from North Canterbury is a deliciously textural wine with enough Sauvignon Blanc character to earn a vote from Savvie supporters and sufficient flavour complexity for others to think twice about their prejudice against this country’s most successful grape variety.

Craggy Range Te Muna Sauvignon Blanc, Martinborough 2013 – $23.95

Powerful wine chalky mineral, grapefruit and subtle melon flavours. Long and linear with a character that reminds me of French Sancerre. This food-friendly wine can be appreciated now but will age superbly. Splash it into a decanter 15-30 minutes before serving to enjoy it at its best. Brilliant with oysters garnished with a squeeze of lime.

Mt Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc, North Canterbury 2013 – $22

Softer and more accessible than Craggy Range Te Muna in a slightly restrained (rather than showy) style that reveals subtle power. Melon, citrus and delicately nutty flavours. An appealing wine that’s more about texture than taste. Good with most seafood dishes but can be appreciated without the complication of food.

First published in KiaOra Magazine – Jul 2014.

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