Producer: Lake Chalice Wines
Country Hierarchy: New Zealand
Grape/Blend: Sauvignon Blanc
Food Suggestion: Goats’ Cheese and Feta
Wine Style: White – Green and Flinty
Alcohol Content: 12 – 13%
Marlborough is by far New Zealand’s most important wine region. Situated at the northeastern tip of the South Island, this dry, sunny region produces around three-quarters of all New Zealand wine. It is particularly famous for its pungent, zesty Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
The region consists of two parallel valleys, the Wairau and the Awatere. It stretches up the Pacific coast from Kaikoura to Picton, a small port town in the Marlborough Sounds. The long, straight Wairau Valley is slightly longer-established than the Awatere and has a greater share of Marlborough’s 58,300 acres (23,600ha) of vineyards.
River terraces in the Awatere Valley ©NZWA/Babich Wines
Although some vines were planted by settlers in the 1870s, commercial scale viticulture did not begin in Marlborough until the 1970s, when the Auckland-based wine producer Montana (now Brancott Estate) surveyed the area and bought its first land there. The first large-scale vineyards were planted in 1973 and, despite early challenges with the region’s dry soils and strong winds, Marlborough wines were already making a name for themselves by the early 1980s. Rapid expansion followed and, by 1985, Marlborough was awash in a sea of average-quality wines. A government vine-pull scheme helped to re-establish balance somewhat, during which the high-yielding Muller-Thurgau vines that once dominated the region were replaced with the now-iconic Sauvignon Blanc. Such was the success of Sauvignon Blanc here that Marlborough is widely regarded as the variety’s New World home.
Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc exploded onto the world wine scene in the 1980s and 1990s, to the rapture of wine critics and consumers around the globe. It is noted for its complete lack of subtlety, its intense flavors of green pepper and gooseberry and a sweaty character that has been famously described as “cat’s pee on a gooseberry bush”. There are few New World wine regions so closely associated with a single grape variety as Marlborough is with Sauvignon Blanc (with the possible exception of Mendoza and its Malbec).
Marlborough’s valleys were created millions of years ago by a large glacier. The Wairau Valley, home to the region’s main center, Blenheim, and the Rapaura and Renwick sub-regions, has a warm, sunny climate cooled by winds from the Pacific Ocean. The Awatere Valley, just to the southeast, has a slightly cooler climate due to its added proximity to the ocean on both northern and eastern sides. Sea breezes are a vital part of the Marlborough terroir. Sunshine during the day is tempered by the wind, leading to a substantial diurnal temperature variation. This, along with a sunny, dry autumn, creates a long growing season, which gives the grapes times to develop full, expressive varietal character without losing their characteristic acidity.
The region’s soils are geologically young and largely alluvial, having been distributed around the two valley floors by the Wairau and Awatere rivers. Gravelly soils are common on the river terraces, while silty loams can be found in the hills. These soils are excellent for viticulture because of their rapid drainage and low fertility. The vines are forced to work hard for hydration and nutrients, meaning that they focus their energy on the production of small, concentrated grapes, which translates into intensity of flavor in the finished wines.
Although Sauvignon Blanc dominates the Marlborough vineyards, several other varieties also perform well here. Among the white-wine grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Rieslingare the most common. In recent years, the region’s earliest Pinot Noir vines have come of age, and are now producing some first-class wines. Marlborough Pinot Noirs are lighter and fruitier than those from Otago and Martinborough. Marlborough is also an important producer of quality sparkling wine made in the methode traditionnelle.
Sauvignon Blanc is a white-wine grape from western France, now successfully grown in emerging and established wine regions all over the world. While the grape may be more readily associated with the Loire Valley (for its pivotal role in Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé), it is more likely to have originated from Bordeaux, where it is typically blended with Semillon.
In the late 20th Century, a new region began to gain a reputation as one of the great Sauvignon Blanc regions of the world: Marlborough, at the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island. The rapid development of the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is one of the most dramatic events in the world of wine. The intense and readily accessible flavor of a classic Marlborough “Savvy” (as it is colloquially known in that part of the world) has captured a vast market around the globe, from the United States and Canada to the UK and northern Europe, Australia and Japan. In 2015, Sauvignon Blanc accounted for around 85% of New Zealand’s wine exports.
Sauvignon Blanc Grapes
Outside France and New Zealand, the variety has been relatively successful in New World regions such as California, Chile (particularly the Casablanca and San Antonio valleys) and South Africa. Even in Australia the variety can thrive in the cooler coastal areas of the south. In Europe, the cool, sunny sub-alpine slopes of Alto Adige and Friuli in northern Italy produce high quality Sauvignon Blanc, which is used in blends with native varieties like Friulano or on its own.
The key selling point of Sauvignon Blanc is its straightforwardness – the flavors are rarely hidden away in the background. Also, there is a particularly close correlation between the perceived flavors and their descriptors, making Sauvignon Blanc an ideal wine with which to begin wine-tasting lessons.
Classic Sauvignon Blanc aromas range from grass, nettles, blackcurrant leaf and asparagus to green apples and gooseberries, and to more esoteric notes such as cats’ pee and gunflint. The latter is a sign of a wine from Pouilly-Fumé, where the struck flint aroma (known there as pierre à fusil) derives from the presence of high levels of chert in the local limestone soils. This effect is so pronounced and consistent that Sauvignon Blanc was once widely known as Blanc Fumé in this part of the Loire.
When combined with Semillon, as it is in most Bordeaux blanc, Sauvignon is found in some of the world’s finest dry white wines. Although generally a minor component, it also plays an important role alongside Semillon in Sauternes, the closest the variety gets to the top end of the wine spectrum. Since the 1970s, this pairing has become the staple white blend in Australia’s Margaret River region.
A relatively robust, vigorous vine (which explains its popularity with viticulturists), Sauvignon adapts readily to all kinds of growing environments. Because it ripens early, it can be grown in relatively cool climates – its Loire homeland being the most obvious example – while its naturally high acidity allows it to retain a level of freshness even in warmer areas. However, to achieve the true, forward zing that best characterizes Sauvignon Blanc wine, a cooler terroir is needed, ideally with persistent bright sunshine and a dry harvest period.
Strange as it may seem, bright, green Sauvignon Blanc has much in common with dark-skinned Cabernet Sauvignon, and not just in the name and region of origin. The bell-pepper and asparagus flavors detectable in wines of both types are down to the methoxypyrazine flavor compounds in both varieties. Also, they are both vigorous growers that produce generous yields and are inclined to produce overly dense canopies in cooler climates. The two varieties are, in fact, genetically related; Sauvignon became the parent to Cabernet Sauvignon after a natural crossing with Cabernet Franc in an 18th-Century Bordeaux vineyard. Both parent and offspring have now become two of the most widely planted vine varieties in the world.
Synonyms include: Fumé Blanc, Sauvignon Bianco, Muskat-Silvaner, Muskat-Sylvaner.
Food matches for Sauvignon Blanc include:
- Broad bean and chèvre salad
- Grilled asparagus with hollandaise
- Bluff oysters with dill and lime vinaigrette
Enjoy this video of three top wine writers discussing Sauvignon Blanc…
(sources : wine-searcher)