Regional styles of sauvignon blanc
The international success of Marlborough sauvignon blanc has encouraged other regions to devote much of their regional vineyard to the variety. For example, it’s number one in Nelson with more than twice the acreage of pinot noir, the region’s second most planted variety. Sauvignon blanc is an important and effective calling card for anyone wishing to sell their wine overseas.
A large tasting of sauvignon blanc reminded me of the variety’s considerable regional differences. Does the fact that Hawke’s Bay sauvignon blanc, for example, taste different to Marlborough sauvignon blanc make it a lesser wine? Not a bit of it. Producers need to celebrate the difference and carve their own niche in the sauvignon market. I’d like to see wine drinkers in overseas markets asking for Hawke’s Bay sauvignon blanc rather than producers coat-tailing on the success of “New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc”.
Here are four high-quality regional styles, including a very typical Marlborough sauvignon blanc. Each is a style worth celebrating.
Hawke’s Bay sauvignon is closer to the Bordeaux model than the Marlborough benchmark. The wines typically have softer acidity than Marlborough with mellow tree fruit, particularly nectarine, flavours. In my view, it is a better prospect for barrel fermentation and maturation than the more southerly styles which can react with oak to become quite resinous. Church Road Grand Reserve Oak Fermented Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (NZD $48.99) is about as serious and as complex as sauvignon blanc gets. Indigenous yeast fermentation has added a slightly struck flint, mineral character. It should develop well in bottle.
Neudorf Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (NZD $25) from Nelson has pronounced aromatics and the sort of energy that typifies sauvignon blanc from this region. Impressive concentration and a lingering finish with a mix of tree fruit and citrus flavours. It’s closer to the Marlborough model than the other examples but retains a distinct “Nelson” personality.
I chose Rapaura Springs Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (NZD $18.99) because it is a good example of the tropical fruit versus capsicum Marlborough style and offers the sort of punchy aromatics that helped put New Zealand on the world wine map. It’s a safe bet for anyone who loves Marlborough sauvignon blanc.
Mt Difficulty Bannockburn Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (NZD $25.99) is more austere than the other examples and has a pleasing thread of oyster shell, mineral character that help define its Central Otago origin. I particularly like the wine’s concealed power and restrained tree fruit characters. It’s a perfect match with Bluff oysters served with just a squeeze of lime juice.