All hail the mighty Marlborough sauvignon blanc

Patrick Materman says sauvignon blanc is still the wine the world wants from New Zealand.
Photo: Scott Hammond

Patrick Materman says sauvignon blanc is still the wine the world wants from New Zealand.

Glance at any supermarket wine section and it's immediately clear that we like sauvignon blanc best. 

All the reds for sale would struggle to fill the area set aside for a single variety from a single area - Marlborough sauvignon blanc. For all the talk about the New Zealand wine industry being much more than a one-trick pony – that pony still rules.

But while sauvignon blanc sells in stainless steel vat loads, it's other wines such as pinot noir, that have set up their own navel-gazing conferences.

This changes next month when over February 1-3 all things sauvignon blanc will be discussed in Blenheim by 300 wine experts, writers and makers at the inaugural International Sauvignon Blanc Celebration 2016. The next celebration will be in 2019 and thereafter every four years.

Celebration chairman Patrick Materman is chief winemaker at Brancott Estate. He says the main point of the conference is to showcase sauvignon blanc's diversity. This is about making sure that sellers and drinkers remain excited by its possibilities and don't get bored with it.


Sauvignon Blanc grapes at Wither Hills Vineyard near Blenheim

Sauvignon Blanc grapes at Wither Hills Vineyard near Blenheim

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That's a risk because sauvignon blanc isn't regarded by the general public as a particularly sophisticated wine. Many see it as a stepping stone to other varieties.

The conference is a far-sighted move rather than from a fear the gold rush is over. In fact, the sauvignon blanc juggernaut shows no sign of slowing.

The figures are staggering: The country's wine exports are worth $1.5 billion, yet  $1.1 million of that comes from sauvignon blanc.

Even more amazingly, 70 per cent of the sauvignon blanc comes from just one area - Marlborough.

Sauvignon blanc was first planted in Marlborough in 1975. Now about 24,000ha of the possible 25,000ha has been planted so peak Marlborough sauvignon blanc is looming. (The total national vineyard area is only 35,000ha, about the size of Champagne in France).

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Marlborough sauvignon blanc tastes differently to sauvignon blanc from anywhere else. Earlier versions had wine writers scratching their heads to describe what they were experiencing. "Cat's pee on a gooseberry bush" and "sweaty armpits" were some of the more out-there attempts.

Materman says the wines have since become more sophisticated.

"They have this aromatic fruit expression that is just punchier and way more fragrant. The early ones were quite herbaceous, they were punchy, but also quite green. Now there is a much better balance. They are riper in flavour but still have a nice clean herbal note to them as well." 

Most regular wine drinkers can easily recognise a Marlborough sauvignon blanc and this is a big part of the appeal. Drinkers like the idea that this is a wine they know about and can rate against others.

Materman says the style also suits modern fresh cuisine styles. "Those are often  about clear, clean flavours and about heroing the raw ingredient. To me, sauvignon blanc does that as well."

He sees no sign of sauvignon blanc going out of fashion.

Export markets growing at enormous rate. The United States has overtaken Australia as the number one wine destination and a new "massive spike" in sales to Russia show there are still places discovering Kiwi sauvignon blanc.

"New Zealand's overall wine production is about 1 percent of overall world production. So I don't think we are going to flood the market."

For more information on the conference see


 - Stuff

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