‘Samey’ New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc?

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.

Australian wine & food: a fresh approach from Savour Australia 2013

In September last year Sydney played hose to Savour Australia, a new initiative to kick-start the Australian wine industry and its partners overseas into revisiting the market and exploring new ways in which to revitalise Australian wines to an ever-shifting consumer base.

You’ll find much of what went on in Sydney available on the website Savour Australia 2013, but one of the presentations that had an impact with me were the excellent series of videos that coupled Australian cuisine with Australian wines and I thought them worth reproducing here for easy viewing. In the UK we’re seemingly obsessed with food, cooking and food provenance; it’s a burgeoning industry in itself with farmers’ markets, food festivals and television programmes extremely popular up and down the country.

However, since our own wine industry is relatively small and geographically fragmented, wine hasn’t joined into this movement easily; in fact craft beer and spirits have probably been more successful at doing so to date. What’s also so refreshing about this montages is the incredibly inventive and innovative approach to food that’s seen in Australia; Australian wine and food is not all about the ‘barbie’ and big reds with Desperate Dan-sized steaks.

So here are the People to Plate videos; I hope you’ll find them as inspiring and intriguing as I did:

Tinpot Hut Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Tinpot Hut Sauvignon Blanc 2013We all know the phenomenal success story that is Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc which shows little sign of abating if the figures from our on-trade accounts last year are anything to go by. Much has been made of its price point as the UK’s highest value retail wine, with an average of £7, but I think that pales into insignificance when I’m looking at Marlborough Sauvignon being the second best selling wine on a restaurant list at £30 behind a house white at £18.50 (and thus becoming the most profitable white wine on said restaurant’s list). Our demand for good Marlborough ‘Savvy’ goes way beyond a supermarket deal.

And so we have this little beauty, the Tinpot Hut which performs brilliantly on restaurant lists up and down the land. Why? Well, beyond the perfection of its simple name and label, that has to come down to its quality, and in particular winemaker Fiona Turner’s choice of vineyards from which to source her fruit and then consummate skill in the winery. Sauvignon Blanc isn’t the hardest white wine to make, by any stretch, yet so many get it painfully wrong; not so Fiona, who manages to produce wine year after year which straddles the lines between herbaceous/exotic fruit/acidity/refreshing character with ease. She manages to marshal her methoxypryazines and thiols like Snow White could manage those pesky dwarves – as if they fall into line at her whim.

So this is a superb Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, one that can withstand a three or four-times-cost multiplier effect on an on-trade list and still whet the appetite of a demanding public. There are very few, if any, “high street” Sauvignon Blancs I’ve come across that could perform that trick year after year.

Tinpot Hut Sauvignon Blanc 2013: £12.15 (or £10.90 if buying 6+)

Matthew Jukes 100 Best Australian Wines 2013/4

Matthew Jukes’ 100 Best Australian Wines list hits its tenth anniversary with the 2013/4 edition, a personal selection of the wines that he views as standing out from the crowd in any given year. We’ve 29 of these wines listed; or rather we did have, since, as with any ‘best of’ list, things change all too rapidly. Those that are still available are individually written up on this blog; the exceptions are:

  • Innocent Bystander Chardonnay 2012: just not here yet; one to watch out for, since all the Innocent Bystander wines offer terrific quality/value ratio from their Yarra Valley base
  • Willunga 100 Tempranillo 2012: it’s all gone, and they’ll be no 2013 since Willunga 100 didn’t think the fruit good enough (it’s nice to know that even at the £10 level though some producers won’t foist substandard wines our way)
  • Cullen Diana Madeline 2010: all gone again I’m afraid, and you’ll have to move swiftly to catch the 2011 before that disappears before the next 100 Best list is published too
  • Jim Barry The Armagh Shiraz 2007: another disappearing act, though other Jukes’ 100 Best Armagh wines are still around
  • Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling 2012: our final ‘sold out’ wine, almost inevitable (along with Charles Melton’s Rose of Virginia) that this goes not long after Jukes’ 100 Best hits the press

Still, that leaves 24 to chose from, and there are some outstanding Australian wines within them.

100 Best Australian Wines 2013/4: #24 Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2012

The twenty-fourth entrant on our list in Matthew Jukes’ 100 Best Australian Wines 2013/4 is the estimable Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier. Yalumba’s tireless work in resurrecting this variety, once in danger of extinction, and Louisa Rose’s dexterous touch with it, are evident at all levels of Yalumba’s Australian Viognier wines (as Matthew is at pains to point out).

Vine tendril


I adore the 2010 vintage of this wine. It was in my list last year and I poured it blind on many occasions and not a single person thought it was anything other than smart Condrieu in the whole twelve month period. This year’s releases mainly come from the 10/10, epic, jaw-dropping 2012 vintage. Starting with 2012 Y Series Viognier (a wine which retails for a tenner) – this is a work of art. In any other vintage I would have said it was the Eden Valley cuvée in a happy-go-lucky mood. It is already one of the finest sub-tenner white wines of the year and I don’t expect much competition to trouble its position. Move up to my featured 2012 Eden Valley Viognier and you have a wine to which I awarded a vertiginous 19/20. This is not a typo. It scores the same as 2010 Virgilius, the top cuvée. It is certainly a much lighter wine with minimal oak contact. But it is also a wine with a sub-fifteen pound price tag and it is a jollier soul with pizzazz and masses of intrinsic cool. As you can gather I am a massive fan of what Louisa Rose is doing and as every vintage passes the wines become more refined and more memorable. The trick to this year’s releases though is that the 2012 and 2010 vintages are two years apart and both epic and this doesn’t happen very often. Please take advantage of this anomaly. Just to prove that it is not just Viognier which Yalumba has mastered, don’t forget about 2012 Y Series Unwooded Chardonnay and the 2011 FDW(7C) Chardonnay from Adelaide Hills. Both scored the required point to make the grade. It is a busy year so they have to be content with a mention, but from a crazy, entry level, zesty little pocket rocket to a sultry, languid, decorous femme fatale, these two wines will also turn heads wherever they go.

Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2012: £13.75 (£11.95 if buying 6+)

100 Best Australian Wines 2013/4: #23 Yalumba Museum Reserve Muscat NV

Every wine rack or cellar should hold wines like this; Australian fortified wines exemplify the country’s wine heritage, foresight and are simply delicious. A half bottle can last a long time; a small glass is all that’s needed to sample their unctuous, liquid Christmas pudding-style nature. Remarkable value too. Our twenty-third entrant in Matthew Jukes’ 100 Best Australian Wines this year.

Yalumba Museum Muscat


I have tasted many a Muscat over the last twelve months (tough job) and while I adore the old ones and think that All Saints, Campbells and Stanton & Killeen all deserve medals (which they have along with countless trophies, too), I keep coming back to this entry level version because it does so much of what the ‘Grands’ and ‘Rares’ do, without some of the manky old wood notes, and at a stunningly affordable price. With seven years spent in large French oak barrels the fig, treacle, brûlée, rose petal, cinnamon, espresso and ginger lily notes are simply sublime. Super-sweet and hedonistic this is a pudding or after dinner wine that will stun your pals. It will keep for an eternity and not spoil once opened so the future is only bright with this monumental, but affordable sticky, in your collection.

Yalumba Museum Reserve Muscat NV: £13.60 (37.5cl) (£11.95 if buying 3+)

100 Best Australian Wines 2013/4: #22 Yalumba FSW8B Botrytis Viognier

Yalumba’s, in particular Chief Winemaker Louisa Rose’s, mastery of Viognier is well documented so perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise to meet this delectable sweet wine produced from the exotically-scented Rhône grape variety. But in a sense that downplays the considerable expertise required both in vineyard (botrytis, or ‘noble rot’, requires some very special conditions to occur) and in the winery (so as to ensure the sweetness/acidity ratio is bang on the nail).

I’m sure you’ll concur with Matthew Jukes’ assessment that even “I don’t like sweet wine” advocates will swiftly change their minds upon tasting this elixir. Perfect for Valentine’s Day too.

I don’t know how they do it either because I am not a massive fan of the faddy, sweet Viogs from the Northern Rhône, but this wine really does have something special going on and it makes me smile. There are only a handful of wines on the planet with this levity and succulence ratio. I venture that even people who profess to not liking sweet wines will go gaga when they taste the haunting and yet arresting fruit in this golden tube of Yalumba joy.

Yalumba FSW8B Botrytis Viognier 2012: £13.00 (37.5cl) (£11.40 if buying 6+)

100 Best Australian Wines 2013/4: #21 John Duval Entity Shiraz 2010

It’s really astonishing that there’s any John Duval Entity Shiraz left in the UK; this has to be one of Australia’s greatest red wine bargains, it should really sell out on release. That’s not marketing bumph, really, it’s an honest appraisal of this exceptionally-priced top-flight Barossa Shiraz.

John Duval’s many years as custodian of Penfold’s Grange, his quietly unassuming manner, and abundantly evident mastery in both vineyard and winery are unassailable. That this wine is less than £30 in the UK is simply incredible. Let’s hope Matthew Jukes’ inclusion of Entity Shiraz in his 100 Best Australian Wines begins to see this fabulous wine reach a wider audience.

John Duval

Welcome back Mr Duval, we’ve been waiting for you.  I always enjoy tasting John’s wines because there is a sheen to them which makes them so appealing. In 2010 there is also some grunt and more spice overlaying the chocolate, plum and mulberry theme and it is these extra elements which have caught my eye. The oak is rather more exotic than normal, too, and with Entity weighing in at half the price of Eligo the decision has been made very simple for me.  If you enjoy grandiose, Le Mans-style cruising then this is the wine for you.

John Duval Entity Shiraz 2010: £28.55 (£25 if buying 3+)