Tag Archives: New Zealand

White Wine Lovers Flock in Droves to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

13 Nov

By Sharon Kapnick

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is a great success story, a phenomenon really. Although the first vines were planted in Marlborough as recently as 1973 and the first wine made in commercial amounts in 1980, by the early ’90s, Sauvignon Blanc had become the country’s flagship wine. Soon after, it  started to capture much attention and gain fans in the U.S. In doing so, it rejuvenated and redefined the Sauvignon Blanc category. Now its style is emulated by others worldwide.

Over the past year ending on August 20, according to Nielsen, New Zealand wines had the fastest growth rate of all import countries it measured. Volume went up 31.8%. (More than 90% of New Zealand wine sales in the U.S. are Sauvignon Blanc.) And, says Nielsen, sales of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc are growing much faster than those of U.S. Sauvignon Blanc.

Why? The wines have flair. The words often used to describe them are racy, zingy, zippy, zesty, bold, exuberant–all very upbeat, appealing qualities. The wines have distinctive, pungent, powerful aromas and flavors and lots of character and personality, occasionally even bordering on flamboyance. It’s a style that’s caught on like wildfire. Mary-Ewing Mulligan and Ed McCarthy wrote in Wine Style: “Many Sauvignon Blanc wines from the Marlborough region redefine the term aromatics, so intense are their passion fruit, green citrus, or vegetal aromas and flavors.”

Most of the country’s Sauvignon Blanc is grown in Marlborough, New Zealand’s premier wine-producing region, at the north end of the South Island. Marlborough’s dry, sunny days and cool maritime nights–no point in New Zealand is farther than 70 miles from the sea–suit the varietal, as does the long growing season.

In the U.S. the wines are easy to find, easy to open–-upwards of 95% have screw caps– and often easy on the pocketbook. Here are some brands to know and four delicious wines I tasted recently, either with the winemaker or from samples I received.

Recommended Wineries and Wines

Cloudy Bay  (www.cloudybay.co.nz) was named in 1770 when British naval Captain James Cook was navigating the New Zealand coast. The winery that took its name was founded in 1985. Cloudy Bay is usually considered the best New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Master Sommelier Vincent Gasnier wrote in Top 10 Wines: Australia and New Zealand: “Cloudy Bay defined the archetypal New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and became an international celebrity.” In September, Drinks International released its list of the World’s Most Admired Wine Brands, a comprehensive industry poll of the world’s best regarded wines, and Cloudy Bay was among the Top 10.

Cloudy Bay Marlborough 2010: Aromas and flavors of lime, grapefruit, mango, nectarine, gooseberry and orange blossoms. Mineral tones. Elegant and crisp. Most New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are cold fermented in stainless steel, but a small portion of this wine spent time in old French oak barriques. An excellent value at $25 SRP (suggested retail price*).

In 1943 Nikola Nobilo, a Croatian immigrant, planted his first vines in his new home west of Auckland, at the north end of the North Island. Nobilo became one of New Zealand’s pioneering winemakers. He played an important role in steering plantings toward Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir and  developing the Marlborough region . Today Nobilo (nobilo.co.nz), now owned by Constellation NZ, is one of the top-selling New Zealand brands in the U.S.

Nobilo Regional Collection Marlborough 2010 ($14, SRP): Aromas and flavors of lime, pineapple, melon, passion fruit and tropical fruits; fresh, crisp, fruit forward. An excellent value.

Dashwood  (www.vavasour.com) was founded in 1989 by Vavasour Wines, which made its wine with grapes from the Ataware Valley. But Vavasour wanted to offer a different style, one with crisp acidity, vibrant fruit flavors and intense aromatics, so it created  Dashwood, which blends grapes from the Wairau Valley for their fruit character and grapes from the Ataware Valley for their flinty, mineral character.

Dashwood Marlborough 2010 ($14, SRP): Aromas and flavors of pineapple, melon, white peach, citrus and mango. An excellent value.

Martinborough, at the south end of the North Island, and Marlborough, right across the Cook Strait, are similar to each other in soil profile and climate. But Craggy Range (http://www.craggyrange.com) believes that the small differences are critical. It opted for Martinborough, generally thought of as Pinot Noir territory, for its Sauvignon Blanc because it believes that the wines are more extracted, complex and structured, with more subtle aromatics and greater elegance. Try them side by side with some Marlborough wines to see if you agree.

Craggy Range Te Muna Road Martinborough 2010 ($22 SRP): Aromas and flavors of lime, passion fruit and herbs. This wine is fermented in French oak barriques and stainless steel tanks.

Foods that pair especially well with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc: Tomatoes, salads, vegetarian soups, vegetarian dishes; goat and many other cheeses; seafood, shellfish; light chicken, veal and turkey dishes; Indian, Thai, Chinese and Japanese dishes, including spicy ones; dishes with herbs and garlic

*Note: Wines can usually be found for less money–sometimes considerably less–than their SRP. Check out wine-searcher.com to get an idea of discounted prices.