Wine with personality

NEIL HODGSON
Last updated 13:41 12/10/2012

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Neil Hodgson's wine column

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If you think of wine varieties in terms of personality, then I think riesling would be that intriguing young woman down the road who you can't quite put in a particular category, while pinot gris would be the frivolous, carefree young person who has just started work and thinks they know everything.

I think pinot noir would be the sultry temptress, shiraz is that bloke down the road you can rely on to lend you a mower when yours breaks down and sauvignon blanc is the workhorse who does everything to make sure the others have everything they need.

And, just like the workhorse, sauvignon blanc is vital to the New Zealand wine industry. It accounts for about 60 per cent of wine produced in New Zealand and is the variety that opens the door to export markets for other varieties produced here. Of the 180 million litres of wine exported from New Zealand last year, about 151 million litres was sauvignon blanc - it is an essential component of the success of the New Zealand wine industry.

Having said that, if every bottle of sauvignon blanc tasted the same people would soon get tired of it and that means regional and production variances are needed to keep alive the intrigue New Zealand sauvignon blanc offers the world's tastebuds.

Even sub-regional differences are important. Only Marlborough can grow Marlborough sauvignon blanc but within that wider region we see the variety express different flavours when it is grown in the Awatere Valley compared with the Wairau Valley and different again in the Waihopai Valley.

Nelson sauvignon blanc may have the same base characteristics as Marlborough sauvignon blanc but when grown here the acidity in the fruit tends to be a little riper, making the taste quite a bit softer than the scintillatingly fresh Marlborough style.

Winemakers also use different production techniques to make their wines just a little different to everyone else's without compromising the sunshine-in-a-glass delight that is New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Every producer makes sure they know which part of their vineyard produces the very best parcels of fruit, fruit that delivers great flavour and phenolic structure to produce the best wines.

Of course the huge-volume producers don't have the same flexibility as medium and smaller producers and it is these latter producers who tend to be the ones fermenting and ageing a portion (or all) of the juice in old oak barrels to add complexity.

Including oak-aged sauvignon blanc in the final blend adds a round lushness to the mouthfeel of the wine and tends to soften the astringent acidity many people love.

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The real skill of the viticulturist and winemaker is to get the balance just right - fantastic sauvignon blanc with enough intrigue to keep consumers interested without compromising those characters that make it the workhorse of our wine industry.

- Nelson

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