Searching for a fruity definition
Late last year my good friend Raymond Chan appealed to other wine writers, commentators, critics and to wine show judges in particular, to make peace with passionfruit.
Let me explain.
He asked that those who most influence the wine consumer try to find more common ground over the acceptability or otherwise of some of the characters associated with New Zealand, and particularly Marlborough sauvignon blanc - especially pungent passionfruit and the sweat that often goes with it.
The problem is these characters that helped establish New Zealand savvy on the world wine map because it made them different, have, over the years, become identified by wine show judges (most of them winemakers) as faults caused by something called thiols.
And by the dopey, purist notion that sauvignon blanc should taste just like the French model for the variety which, to a lesser degree, also calls into question the gooseberried, nettly-grassy characters at the other end of the Kiwi sauvignon scale, which are caused by methyoxopyrazene.
Chan, who works out of Wellington and is widely regarded for his knowledge and understanding of wine, was prompted to make his call because he felt judges at the most recent Air New Zealand Wine Awards failed to discriminate what was acceptable, what was not among the thiol-driven wines and that as a result some worthy winners missed medals.
This in spite of Michael Brajkovich, the chairman of judges, reminding them that, "It is the exhibitors' job to innovate, and present the wines in whatever style they feel is appropriate. In the wine competition, it is the wine judges' job to recognise and appreciate quality where it exists, regardless of style, and to reward it appropriately".
I could not agree more, with both of them.
But having said that I think it is only fair to admit that I have never particularly liked even what some would probably regard as quite moderate examples of the kind of Marlborough sauvignon blanc that assaults the senses; what I call a one-drink-wonder, unless I'm taking it with oysters, of course.
This does not, however, prevent me, nor should it prevent anyone else from accepting that there are different styles of sauvignon blanc and that this diversity should be encouraged. Which will, as Chan suggests, take much closer examination and understanding of the different expressions - thiols and all - by those who influence consumer tastes.
Some excellent examples of thiol-driven wines:
Stoneleigh 2012 Latitude Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, $27
A very smart wine from the riper end of the spectrum with strong passionfruit and tropical flavours and a "sweaty armpit" nose. Crisp and punchy.
Saint Clair 2012 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, $21
A hugely popular passionfruited wine shot with lime. One of several made in this Marlborough-in-a-bottle style by Saint Clair. Rich and zingy. Excellent value for money.
Some variations on the widely accepted New Zealand sauvignon theme:
Dog Point 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, $24
A Marlborough wine that falls somewhere between the extremes of herbaceousness and passionfruit dictated by the ripeness of the fruit. Tropical, juicy and fresh. A must-try.
Dog Point 2010 Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc, $33
An Australian wine critic has called it our finest sauvignon blanc. It is also one of the most complex, thanks mainly to 18 months of old French oak that does little to blunt the flint, the flavour and freshness. Immaculate.
Te Mata Estate 2011 Cape Crest Sauvignon Blanc, $30
A blend of sauvignon blanc, semillon and sauvignon gris, fermented and aged in French oak. A beautifully fragrant, stonefruited wine that flows effortlessly across the palate. One of the best.
Palliser Estate 2012 Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc, $26
A consistently classy sauvignon with a foot in both the passionfruit and the gooseberry camps. Typically vibrant and refined with a feelgood quality that makes it dangerously easy drinking. Great value.
The Southland Times