Always asking questions, always pushing boundaries, that’s the philosophy of Daniel Sorrell who has been the winemaker at Cloudy Bay for the past four years. As the winery celebrates its 35th anniversary Chris Wilson met up with Sorrell to taste the new vintage Cloudy Bay 2019, where he also found out what made 2019 a nerve-wracking season, why Sorrell thinks Cloudy Bay has become one of the iconic white wines of the world, how the estate is seeking a ‘nervous’ quality in the wine and how it is trying to avoid the thiol-heavy style that seems to be going out of fashion.
Daniel Sorrell describes Cloudy Bay 2019 as a ‘classic’ vintage: “It has everything we chase in terms of character and flavour profile, intensity, elegance, tension and acidity.”
What was supposed to be a tasting of the components of the new Cloudy Bay release, its flagship Sauvignon Blanc 2019, was derailed at the 11thhour when customs seized the samples.
Instead we simply enjoyed a detailed tasting of the new wine with Cloudy Bay winemaker Daniel Sorrell, who took time to explain how and why this wine has become a benchmark for Sauvignon Blanc across the world over the past 20 years.
Sorrell has been the Cloudy Bay winemaker since 2015, when he took over from Tim Heath (big boots to fill), and arrived with a simple philosophy to this work – always ask questions, always push boundaries.
So how is he practising what he preaches when it comes to Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc? “Firstly we don’t pick safe, we look for that nervous quality,” he says. “We are looking for a wine which ‘smiles’ in the mouth, that’s textured and bright.”
‘Less is more’ for Sorrell when it comes to dealing with thiols, that oh-so divisive Sauvignon component. For him, and to maintain the bright style of Cloudy Bay, thiols are handled with kid gloves. “We don’t chase thiols, we could but we don’t. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc can be ‘thiols + acid’, but not for us,” he says.
There’s been backlash against the thiol-packed Marlborough Sauvignon style in recent years with many consumers seeking a less extracted style or looking elsewhere for their go-to white wine, but given the style and premium billing of Cloudy Bay this hasn’t affected their operation.
“There is always the chance that New Zealand Sauvignon will go out of fashion but I don’t think it will,” says Sorrell. “There are different business models with Kiwi Sauvignon and some people are playing in the £5 retail category. I believe that if, like us, you are striving to make quality wines then you are always going to have the market – Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc is one of the iconic white wines of the world.”
And so to the new vintage – 86 parcels of wine were earmarked for the blend, with 62 making it into the final assemblage after a thorough ‘declassification exercise’. 5-10% was fermented in large 15-year-old oak to add texture, the rest saw stainless steel throughout.
“It was nerve-wracking season, but a joy-to-make wine,” says Sorrell referring to the unsettled weather in Marlborough following an early spring bud burst. After Christmas the weather settled and it was warm and dry until harvest which was the earliest to finish in the history of Cloudy Bay, completing on 2ndApril.
Sorrell and Cloudy Bay technical director Jim White describe 2019 as a ‘classic’ vintage. “It has everything we chase for in terms of character and flavour profile,” says Sorrell, “intensity, elegance, tension and acidity.”
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2019
Limpid with a pale yellow hue, the nose is undeniably punchy with bright and intense characters of jasmine, candle wax, gooseberry and ripe Mirabelle plum. There’s a sweetness of fruit from the very first taste – and a dash of confection – before the brisk acidity is introduced along with a metallic note. The fruit is lost a little on the mid-palate (still a little shy perhaps) but comes cascading back with lime and green apple alongside elderflower and a slight white pepper note. A long, saline finish.