I was delighted to attend the New Zealand Wine Fair along with a seminar titled The Ageability of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. The tasting and seminar were held at the Metropolitan Pavilion in NYC. Members of the seminar panel included Joe Czerwinski of Wine Enthusiast, Ruud Maasdam, founder and winemaker of Staete Landt Vineyards, and Christine Kernohan, managing director and winemaker of Gladstone Vineyard.
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has made an incredible impact on wine drinkers throughout the world. A speedy, steady growth in beginning in the 1990’s has resulted in Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand setting the style benchmark for the grape. Recently at the second Drinks Business Global Sauvignon Blanc Masters competition New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc “took home the lion’s share of medals across the board” [157 wines were entered from 11 different countries]. Most significantly in the “Value for Money” category [under £15], out of the 14 wines competing, New Zealand won 9 of the gold medals.
The rise in popularity [currently Sauvignon Blanc is the UK’s top-selling white variety], mirrored New Zealand’s commitment to sustainability. Today nearly 100% of wines produced are certified sustainable, with many also being certified organic and biodynamic.
There are 10 growing regions that cover 1000 miles, from the subtropical northern regions to the mountainside vineyards in the south. This regional diversity creates a broad spectrum of styles within New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. There are 2 main styles within the range; the classic or “Greywacke” style which is the most widely known, especially to the American market. A pungent aroma, loads of tropical fruit, bell pepper, legendary grass notes and a vibrant acidity are characteristics of this “classic” style, which is cold fermented in stainless steel. The second style or approach are wines that are crafted with natural yeasts, have been aged on the lees and see a bit of oak. These wines tend to display a wider range of flavours and complexity.
The seminar explored those styles further by contrasting and comparing Sauvignon Blanc from 3 different regions.
• Marlborough vineyards are of predominantly clay soil, which produces wines with high, astringent acidity, complimented by tropical fruit and herbaceous flavours. These are regarded as “the perfect examples of New Zealand terroir”, the trademark of New Zealand style.
• Wairarapa, located in the southeastern part of the North Island, produces wines in a more “gentle style”. The wines are known for their expressive minerality and elegance.
• Wairau Valley is more northern in location and has a greywacke soil, producing wines in a classic, fruity style.
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has an interesting value scale. Whilst there is good value in the average $10 bottle, by going up in price a couple of dollars, the quality increases vastly. The example given was that it’s possible to double the quality of the wine just by going from a $10 purchase to $12.
Sauvignon Blanc has a naturally high acidity due to the cool climate; this increases its ability to age well. Putting Sauvignon Blanc away for 10-15 years is just not a common practice, but it should be. “Good vineyards will give a nice reward” when aged.
In addition to not giving wines the ability to develop with a bit of age; I also observed that many times, white wines are served too cold. The wines in the seminar had been opened and left at room temperature for about an hour, which allows the fruit and elegant minerality to really develop.
I enjoyed all of the 9 wines presented, below are the ones I found the most engaging and expressive of where they come from, along with representing different winemaking approaches. [Ordered from youngest to oldest vintage.]
Matua ‘Lands and Legends’ Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2015
Immediately recognized as the New Zealand style and even more specifically, that of Marlborough. Energetic aromas of tomato leaf and melon introduce this classic style, with stone fruits, melon and herbal hints highlighted by a bright acidity and clean finish.
[This was the only wine that was accompanied by food; it was paired with oysters, one of the classic styles’ most popular pairings.]
Villa Maria Single Vineyard ‘Taylors Pass’ Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2015
Vibrant, fresh and well balanced with apricot, tomato leaf, lemon, and a streak of minerality. A bit of spice surfaces on the zesty, citrus finish. My tasting notes have “just lovely” underscored multiple times.
Gladstone Vineyard Reserve ‘Sophie’s Choice’ Sauvignon Blanc Wairarapa 2012
Tasting like liquid lemon tarts, this has a wonderful nutty undercurrent. Floral and sweet grass notes compliment vibrant acidity, finishing with flinty minerals and more bright lemon. Winemaker Christine Kernohan said she believes this can continue to age for another 12-15 years.
$22 [current vintage price as this is no longer on the market]
Churton ‘Best End’ Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2013
From biodynamic vineyards located at an extremely high elevation in the mountains, my immediate reaction was “whiskey-like”. Bright, rich flavours of fruit and smoky spice with a streak of honey, ginger and minerality, this is memorable and engaging, and keeps you reaching for more.
The “new style”, barrel aged for 1 year.
Dog Point ‘Section 94’ Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2008
Incredibly interesting with the characteristic fresh herbaceousness, tomato leaf and stone fruits [I tasted nectarine specifically]. Smoke, buttered toast, and a trace of salinity meld into subtle vanilla on the finish. Fantastically intriguing, Joe Czerwinski said he has tasted this in previous years and feels it has improved with age.
Aged for 18 months in old French oak barrels.
$30 [current vintage price as this is no longer on the market]
Staete Landt Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2004
The oldest Sauvignon Blanc of the seminar, still displaying a racy acidity, still intense and bright. Flavours of peach and tomato leaf, citrus and nuances of buttered toast carrying thru to the finish. Complex and mellow, with an elegant edge, proving that New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has the fortitude for decade plus of ageing.
Some wild fermentation, aged 40-50% in steel, the rest in old barriques.
$18 [current vintage price as this is no longer on the market]
Media event hosted by New Zealand Winegrowers