Marlborough savvy so distinctive

CHEERS: Barton on Wine

Last updated 12:47 13/01/2014
White wine

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Anyone who can't distinguish a typical Marlborough sauvignon blanc from just about any other wine on earth should stick to sucking lemonade through a straw.

Which is one of the reasons, I believe, that the pungent, racy white continues to be a favourite around the world.

It allows people with little or no other interest in wine to show how clever they are by immediately identifying it when it's poured. In fact it's a feat that can sometimes be accomplished from 10 paces, depending on the direction of the wind and the make of cat that peed on the gooseberry bush - which is how the Marlborough model has been described.

But seriously . . .

Mainstream Marlborough sauvignon blanc is an extraordinarily distinctive wine, but it is now only one of many variations on a theme being produced from New Zealand's biggest regional vineyard.

The 2013 vintage yielded 251,680 tonnes of grapes in Marlborough, nearly 75 per cent of New Zealand's total production. The sauvignon blanc pick totalled 210,077 tonnes, most of it destined for export, with plenty left this year to satisfy Kiwi addicts.

And there are still lots of them according to Jeff Clarke, formerly with Pernod Ricard now at Ara, who has has been making Marlborough sauvignon blanc for more than 20 years. He says some of the biggest changes have been in viticulture which has, among other things, led to less of a focus on "green aromatics" and sweaty armpits to wines that are probably slightly more restrained.

More recognition has also been given to the different characters produced in grapes grown in the various sub-regions: tomato stalk and nettle in the Awatere Valley; sweet herbs and grapefruit in the Waihopai Valley; tropical fruits in Raupara and the Wairau Valley; and a certain saltiness in grapes gown near the sea at Rarangi.

There has also been a search for more complexity in the wines through the use of wild ferments, oak and other tricks of the trade - all aimed at making them more harmonious with a wider range of food and simply more interesting.

This has been the emergence of wines such as James Healy and Ivan Donaldson's Dog Point Section 94; Te Koko, developed by Healey and by Kevin Judd when they were still at Cloudy Bay; and Seresin's Marama, a big fleshy sauvignon blanc.

However, as Clarke says, the reality is that the demand will continue to be mostly for dry, crisp, clean and fruity Marlborough sauvignon blanc, the white that everyone can recognise. And obviously likes. But a word of advice: There is no rush to drink these wines. In fact a number of producers now release their sauvignons later than they once did because screw caps slow the development of the wine in the bottle.

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Many who are serious about savs give them at least 12 months in the bottle.

On the shelves now:

Stoneleigh 2013 Lattitude Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, $28

The most precocious of the three new releases from the Stoneleigh stable. A big, pungent wine that's fresh, crisp and in-your-face with a rush of sweet ripe fruit on the finish.

Babich Family Estates 2013 Headwaters Organic Block Sauvignon Blanc, $25

A clean, crisp, organically-produced sauvignon with blossoms on the nose and appealing mix of melons, minerals and spice on the palate. Good texture.

Saint Clair 2013 Vicar's Choice Bright Light Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, $19.50

Made to order for the new drink-drive regulations. A crisp, thirst-quenching lightweight that presses all the right buttons and weighs in at only 9.5 per cent alcohol.

Dog Point 2013 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, $24

A multi-dimensional wine that has been meticulously made and at this price is a steal. Vibrant, rich with layers of flavour and interest. A must-try for savvy fans.

- The Southland Times


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