Above Photo Credit: Austrian wine
Over the past thirty years (yes!), Sauvignon Blanc has been with us in the UK in one form or another. Tasting it with a recognisable label has been a comparatively new phenomenon as most wines consumed in the UK market were void of this info. Then around the 1980’s, the Australian wine revolution kicked in and offered us labels that were clear and precise. The name of the grape was emblazoned on the front of the bottle. Chardonnay suddenly appeared and changed the drinking habits of our wine sipping nation.
But Sauvignon Blanc seemed to be lacking around this time as big and bold Aussie reds and whites dominated our palates. The simple reason we did not see Sauvignon Blanc as much, was Australia made very little. Sauvignon Blanc is simply a cool climate grape and apart from obvious isolated micro-regions not much was being produced.
But wait. Wasn’t France making Sauvignon Blanc around this time? You wouldn’t have known it as the current white wines of the time often just had the name of the town, hamlet or district on the bottle, not allowing recognition of the grape. Sancerre, Touraine and Pouilly-Fumé were certainly on wine lists and being quietly and stylishly consumed without most wine drinkers knowing that Sauvignon Blanc was the only grape allowed when making these white wines.
Around 1979 the first commercial Sauvignon Blanc started to come out of New Zealand. This was also around the time David Hohnen of Western Australia’s Cape Mentelle Vineyards hired winemaker Kevin Judd to make Sauvignon Blanc in Marlborough and started to produce the now fabled Cloudy Bay wines.
Fast forward to 1985 when Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc started to win medals for what best could be described as a “fruit-forward textured” style as opposed to the more acid-mineral based style of Sancerre. A star was born and the rest as they say is history!
We now consume zillions of bottles of the stuff purchased from Supermarkets, Wines Shops, and Wine Merchants and on-line. New Zealand had found a real winner and for many this Gooseberry/Passion fruit dry style of wine was their wine of choice.
Most of the New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc is now shipped in bulk and bottled in the UK. This has enabled volumes to be transported easily and has for the most, kept the price in check. All in all a good thing for the ever-thirsty markets!
But have you ever wondered about different styles of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc? Might you be aware there might be another grape added to the wine or the use of oak might add a textured curve to the finished taste? Does this matter? It seems not as our thirst for a simpler fruiter taste seems unabated.
Marlborough is in New Zealand’s South Island and is by far the largest area planted with Sauvignon Blanc. The majority of the grapes are machine-harvested three years after planting. There are also sub-districts in the Marlborough, the soils and aspect affects the taste of the grape and eventually the wine. Coupled with other wine making techniques in the winery different styles have emerged to create “house styles” that some of you would be familiar with.
The more adventurous winemakers are also “out there” and are creating different wines that are becoming sought after especially on the UK market.
These wines are obtainable from quality importers, wine merchants and restaurants and are often in small quantities making it a tad difficult to keep up with volumes as so little is available.
So Independent wine merchants are the place to experiment with different styles of Sauvignon Blanc and for some of you it will be a revelation.
I mentioned the celebrated winemaker Kevin Judd from Cloudy Bay. After 25 vintages he left this eponymous winery in 2009 and set up Greywacke to create his own wines. I recently met him and tasted his entire range of seven vintages of Sauvignon Blanc accompanied by some outstanding tapas styled dishes at the excellent Bellita restaurant in Bristol. Kevin showed such a gentle hand in his wine making process allowing wild yeast and subtle use of oak as his tools when wishing natural expression of the terrior to be dominant.
Do search for these terrific Greywacke wines in the UK to taste a completely different approach to elaborating Sauvignon Blanc. For stockists go to www.libertywines.co.uk
Stephen Barrett is a Wine, Food and Travel Writer based in Plymouth. Stephen welcomes correspondence via his website www.stephenbarrett.com Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google +, or Twitter @BistroWineMan