The New Zealand Wine New Release & Discovery Tasting 2016 was an opportunity to see whether there is some truth to the assertion that New Zealand has been quietly changing its style of Sauvignon Blanc. Roger Jones had instructions to avoid the tempting allure of the Pinot Noirs and concentrate on whether New Zealand wine growers were turning their backs on cats pee, sweat and tinned fruit and going for elegance and restraint instead.
Nine Sauvignon Blanc picked at this year’s New Zealand Wine New Release & Discovery Tasting that show off an impressive new style
On my last visit to New Zealand two years ago, the hype was all about the Sauvignon Blanc rebirth, the insights into the wrong yeasts that had been used in the past and the lack of leaf protection against the intense sun rays.
There have been many far too technical details for me to get to grips with to explain all this, especially with scientific words like 4MMP (cats pee), 3MHA (sweat), 3MH (tinned fruit) but if you need to know more about these and all about Methoxypyrazines you should touch base with the highly knowledgable and respected ‘cleric’ Dr Jamie Goode.
I was impressed by the serious way that so many of Marlborough’s wine makers were taking their wines to a different flavour focus and fighting against the ‘supermarket’ theory that Gooseberry, Cats Pee and Tinned Fruit was still in vogue.
It was also very impressive to see how many of these guys were getting more sustainable and looking to protect the future generations.
How the tide has turned towards restraint and elegance
One of the test cases to highlight the development was Cloudy Bay and the 2014 vintage that I tried at their vineyard clearly showed their intention with a wine which was quite outstanding, clearly changing to a more restrained style.
This was certainly one of the best from Cloudy Bay for some years and was a far better partner to their prestige Te Koko Sauvignon which has always oozed quality.
So two years on it was with interest that I was invited to New Zealand House, to taste this year’s new releases hosted in the Penthouse.
This building plot was given to the New Zealand government for their support in the Second World War, but its modern architect defined the local historic buildings in the Haymarket area and it took a few decades prior to planning permission to be given, it was then apt that the top floor was first known as the Martini Suite and many adverts for Martini Bianco were promoted there.
With my instructions from the Chief to restrain from enjoying the Pinots and Chardonnays I duly tasted through some 50 Sauvignons… could I last the distance before being distracted by the elegant perfume of the Felton Road quintet of Pinot Noirs?
Well, despite the odd jibe from fellow tasters it certainly was not a chore and I was pleasantly pleased that more wineries had taken on the new mantle of restraint and elegance. I was also pleased to encourage other trusted journalists to try a few of my highlights.
With the exception of a few ‘supermarket’ brand labels, it was clear that New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, especially from Marlborough, has evolved and now sits comfortably in a style that no longer ‘shouts out’ its vibrancy.
Instead, it quietly delivers an elegant, clean, fresh, focused wine style that can still excite the punter and continue with the legacy that legends like Cloudy Bay started (David Hohnen, a Western Australian, established a world wine brand, starting with sending bags of fresh New Zealand Green Lip Mussels, French sticks & garlic bread, with a bottle of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc to numerous Australian establishments… the rest, as we say, is history).
Now clearly I am focusing on the mainstream Sauvignon Blanc not the super doopa oak aged or funky wines such as Dog Point Section 94, Greywacke Wild Sauvignon or Cloudy Bay’s Te Koko which have and continue to excel and excite.
So what was I looking for?
Well it is clear that Oz Clarke’s amazing vision of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc back in the day was amazingly accurate.
We, as a nation, enjoyed tinned asparagus, over cooked green vegetables and asparagus cooked so long that the aroma of stale cabbage hung on our clothes as if we had been in an East End Pub for days, dressed our salads with Trex oil, ate raw sliced green and red peppers that gave us heartburn, enjoyed tasteless green tomatoes and urine-smelling goats cheese – therefore a wine with the same attributes was spot on!
But life and styles change and now we enjoy al dente green vegetables, fresh picked vine tomatoes from the Isle of Wight, raw shaved courgettes and asparagus, high quality olive oil, fresh passion fruit, guava, Alphonse mango, goats cheese that is clean and fresh – are you getting the point?
Yes of course! so we are now looking for a wine that evokes these wonderful flavours.
Sauvignon Blanc highlights
The Martinborough region of New Zealand has always delivered more elegance in their wines and it was not surprising that Craggy Range chose this region to make their Te Muna Road Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. I still have some magnums of their 2009 which was especially bottled for both ourselves and The Hakkasan Restaurant Group, wines like these give faith to the quality of Sauvignon Blanc with age.
Craggy Range Te Muna Vineyard 2016 Sauvignon Blanc
Pure precise, clean soft stone fruit, some hidden gentle acidity, reminiscent of a fine Menetou-Salon, although this is restrained there is a gentle textured background that lifts the wine This is a class act, of course it will develop and excel with age, but feel free to enjoy it now.
Gladstone Vineyard, 2015 Sauvignon Blanc
Another winery that I have much admired, sadly no longer in the UK, having previously been with Great Western Wine prior to their takeover by Enotria&Coe.
The added year of age was evident, as this wine shone, clearly a star, this was one of my highlights at the tasting. This wine was made for food, a definite Pouilly-Fumé style, it was textured and layered, clean juicy stone fruit with a lovely controlled citrus/tropical acidity to balance the wine.
The Marlborough region does have sub regions and these offer different styles, but that is a different journal, here I will just highlight my favourites from the whole region but where needed at the sub region.
Kim Crawford Small Parcels Spitfire 2016 Sauvignon Blanc
Kim’s wines have always stood out for their flamboyance and this is no exception. On first taste it shouted out Pinot Gris to me, but delve in and soak up the oriental spices, restrained perfume, luscious stone fruit and wild white flowers and you have a delicious wine that excites and brings a glow to a cold winter’s day.
TIKI Estate 2016, Wairau Valley, Sauvignon Blanc
TIKI has always been a fine example of style and the 2016 delivers a very cool wine – a very delicate, tantalising palate, fine fruit dance in your mouth bursting with tiny droplets of flavour. There is a lovely clean acidity that gives this wine great drinkability.
Framingham 2015 Sauvignon Blanc
With an extra year this wine offers great value, a purity and steely, mineral style that reminds me of a fine Sancerre, it is clean, precise and easy drinking.
Yealands Estate Single Vineyard 2016, Awatere Valley, Sauvignon Blanc
Tropical on the nose and juicy, just-cut passion fruit on the palate. This juicy and forward wine has a hint of Riesling freshness jumping out, a racey, fine, jovial Sauvignon that gives those people who want lots in a glass a wine to enjoy.
Alluviale 2016 Wairau Valley Sauvignon Blanc
On the nose there is a bright fruity elegance, which follows on the palate with spices, stone fruit, and then a lovely purity. There is a finish of freshness on the wine that makes you want another glass. Great value.
Wither Hills, 2016 Sauvignon Blanc
Clean pure and fresh on the first taste then a delicate oriental background comes through – a touch of kaffir lime leaves, coriander root, papaya which is well balanced, the crisp acidity keeps it together and highlights the recent effort Wither Hills has put not only into their wine but their sustainability too.
I love this region of New Zealand and was disappointed that Neudorf was not on show but we do sell their wine by the glass in our restaurant, currently in the 2014, which is so elegant.
Te Awa Left Field 2016, Nelson, Sauvignon Blanc
Spiced and textured, lovely vibrancy, fresh ice cool passion fruit, nectarines, hints of Thai herbs, this is clean, precise, and easy drinking for those early evenings when a cup of herbal tea just does not hit the mark.
Least we forget that Australia suffered for decades from the ABC theory (luckily that now means Absolutely Brilliant Chardonnay), I feel that New Zealand has quietly moved on.
Many punters have not noticed the change and will continue to love New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc but I believe that we are seeing an increase in sales especially in the higher price point, and this is because they are now producing a wine style that fits the brief and is not as intense or intellectual as a New World Riesling.
Sadly, however, I think it could be the trade that have failed to realise how well New Zealand have evolved and developed their Sauvignon Blanc brand to a new level, so please do not NZEXIT!