I guess it’s the same with many products, but when something becomes almost universally popular there’s a tendency to lump everything into one catch-all bracket. In a short piece the other day on his blog, Australian wine critic Huon Hooke takes issue with this tendency to view all Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc wines as “tasting all the same”.
His conclusion is that this simply “reveals a lack of tasting experience”, a fairly damning indictment of those who take this view of Marlborough’s Sauvignon wines. Think of the Loire’s variety of Sauvignon wines – Sancerre, Quincy, Menetou-Salon, Pouilly-Fumé, Touraine Sauvignon – do we just think they all taste the same? Of course not, and therein lies one of the European system of appellations undeniable strengths; it forces the wine drinker to look at the micro rather than simply varietal level.
It’s a challenge that Marlborough is beginning to embrace, talking about differences within the region; Awatere versus Wairau Valleys for example, whether vineyards are planted on alluvial soils or on loam, distance or proximity to the sea, yields, and of course winemaking techniques. This last point is very important. Consider a wine like Kevin Judd’s Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc and compare it to his Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Blanc. The grapes for both wines come from the same vineyard, with the same viticultural regime; it’s how they’re handled in the winery that crafts two distinct, very fine Marlborough Sauvignon styles.
Huon Hooke’s focus is on Nautilus Estate, noting his meeting with Clive Weston, Nautilus’ MD, who points out that New Zealand from top to bottom covers a distance equivalent from London to Rome with some 700 wineries of which around 400 produce a Sauvignon Blanc. Hooke notes that Nautilus Estate Sauvignon Blanc is very different to the Opawa and Twin Islands wines that the producer also makes, all three having individual flavour and aroma characters, and concluding “All the same? I don’t think so.”
That’s why we list no less than nine Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc wines, each one with its own personality, reflecting unique vineyard locations, differences in the vintage’s microclimates, and the choices of the individual winemaker. So next time you’re tasting New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wines, take the lead from the producer, not the country and you’ll begin to unravel the complexities of this perennial favourite.