It's time to take sauvignon blanc seriously

Sauvignon blancs with more depth and complexity are appearing, brought about by more painstaking viticulture, wild ...
JARRED WILLIAMSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Sauvignon blancs with more depth and complexity are appearing, brought about by more painstaking viticulture, wild ferments and the use of oak.

"If you held a conference about sauvignon blanc, it'd be all over by the time you had a cup of morning coffee."

That quote, from the ever-quotable Richard Riddiford (recently retired CEO of Martinborough's Palliser Estate winery), dates back to 2002.

Poor old savvy b (as my eldest daughter likes to call it). It has had to endure some dissing over the years. But it's easy to see why.

Brancott Estate Letter Series 'B' Sauvignon Blanc 2015

Brancott Estate Letter Series 'B' Sauvignon Blanc 2015

Cropping at gluttonous levels, winemaking by numbers, chasing sameness rather than singularity… these are signposts that lead to commodityville, not to greatness in wine. We heedlessly followed them, because the wine kept selling and for a long time we didn't know any better or really care.

This has led to support dropping away from the likes of Aussie sommeliers and international wine writers, but not from those who really count – punters with a few dollars to spend on a bottle of white wine.

We're fortunate there. Despite the cropping levels and mass production, Marlborough sauvignon blanc has held its ground as a fresh, original style with broad popular appeal. It's also perceived as a value-for-money style, which is less fortunate, but was inevitable given the commodity game we entered into.

Jules Taylor Sauvignon Blanc 2015.

Jules Taylor Sauvignon Blanc 2015.

Happily, the story doesn't end there. A number of winemakers weren't content for the partnership between Marlborough and sauvignon blanc to continue working at a fraction of its potential. Just over a decade ago we began to see the first attempts to add a layer over and above "Marlborough ordinaire". Usually called "alternative styles", these are wines with more depth and complexity brought about by approaches that included more painstaking viticulture, wild ferments and the use of oak.

Cloudy Bay's Te Koko, Dog Point's Section 94, Foxes Island's La Lapine, the Giesen Fuder series and Brancott Estate's Chosen Rows are all part of this new wave.

This has been an important development. It means the national grape is not solely occupying the gluggable end of the spectrum, but more thoughtful territory as well. An old adage applies here: "If you don't take yourself seriously, don't expect anyone else to either."

We're now taking ourselves seriously enough to throw a conference. New Zealand's inaugural International Sauvignon Blanc Celebration takes place in Marlborough from February 1-3 next year. There's quite a programme planned. I don't expect it to be over by morning tea.

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TRY THESE:

Jules Taylor Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($22)
This is a gorgeous example of the excellent 2015 vintage. Limey, taut and juicy, there's plenty of concentration and flavours, while the acidity gives the wine finesse and length.

Brancott Estate Letter Series 'B' Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($33.19)
I love what Patrick Materman has done with this alternative style. The flinty, citrusy flavours sit back and smile, while the texture hogs the limelight. A complex, compelling style.

John Saker is a leading New Zealand wine writer who shares his insights each fortnight.

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