Experts get a whiff of the competition

23:30, Aug 26 2012
Tim Heath
Taste test: Conference goers including Cloudy Bay winemaker Tim Heath, centre, compare Marlborough and Chilean sauvignon blancs at the Romeo Bragato Conference in Blenheim last week

Half a group of 80 wine aficionados could not tell the difference between Chilean and Marlborough sauvignon blancs at a wine tasting.

Mahi Wines founder and winemaker Brian Bicknell and wine consultant and master of wine Phil Reedman presented the wine tasting at the Romeo Bragato Conference in Blenheim last week.

There aim was to show that New Zealand's place as producer of premier sauvignon blanc could be challenged by similarly styled Chilean wines.

Kirsty Harkness
Kirsty Harkness (centre) of Mount base Vineyard, Managing Director, Waihopai valley.

The wines compared were of the same variety, from the same vintage and similar price points. Forty delegates could not tell the difference.

And while most people said they preferred the Marlborough sauvignon blanc, a handful of people admitted to preferring the Chilean version, which was very telling, Mr Reedman said.

"It's not necessarily something to be afraid of, but New Zealand certainly needs to be aware of what the competition is doing."


Phil Reedman.
Phil Reedman, Consultant, PR Master of Wine PTY, Australia.

Mr Bicknell, who started consulting to South American wine companies in 1994, said Chile had a climate and terroir comparable to Marlborough.

The nation's wine industry was also in the midst of rapid expansion into new regions, he said.

The South American wines tasted at the conference also included chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah, malbec and carmenere - Chile's signature variety.

Auckland University viticulturist lecturer and researcher Gerard Logan took part in the wine tasting and was not surprised to see similarities between the two countries' wines. "If you grow the same grapes in similar regions it will result in a similar wine," Mr Logan said.

"In some cases they [Chilean wineries] are purposefully targeting the Marlborough style, having seen its success, but in other cases they are just doing the best they can based on the terroir they have."

There was no room for the New Zealand wine industry to be complacent, he said.

"It doesn't matter how great our wines are, people need to stay alert and recognise South America as a major world player."

The Marlborough Express