Cloudy Bay winemaker Tim Heath is passionate about his job, and about his flagship white wine, Te Koko. Started in 1996, long before Heath joined the company (he arrived 11 years ago), Te Koko was always a big-statement wine: powerful, emphatic, pungent and oaky – an extreme example of the strengths of the Marlborough region and its flagship grape, 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.
Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is one of the world’s most predictable wine styles. Pluck just about any bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from a wine shop shelf and you can be pretty sure that you’ll get a pungently fruity glass of crisp, dry or dry-ish wine with passion fruit, gooseberry and capsicum flavours.
Anyone buying Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has a certain expectation. One nanosecond after the screwcap goes “click” they expect to smell fresh passion fruit, crushed gooseberry and maybe sliced capsicum. Then there’s the punchy, mouth-watering acidity counterpoised with subtly succulent fruit sweetness that gets them reaching for another glass. They buy it because it has knife-edge purity, mountain stream freshness and a unique mix of tantalising flavours.