A version of this article first appeared in Hampshire View, September 2012.
Britain’s ongoing love for New Zealand sauvignon blanc is in real danger of becoming a proper, permanent affair. Not only is sauvignon blanc, from all countries of origin, one of the top-selling grape varieties for take-home consumption, but recent statistics have shown that nearly half of all that sauvignon blanc comes just from New Zealand.
This is a hugely dominant position, and one that other countries, where sauvignon blanc is produced, eye enviably. As if that’s not enough of a big story for New Zealand sauvignon blanc, while the UK take-home market is struggling to grow at all, sales of kiwi sauvignon blanc are growing at a phenomenal 9%.
There’s clearly something about the flavour profile of kiwi sauvignon blanc that appeals to UK drinkers’ preferences. And New Zealand is happy to have a location that can grow fruit of such intensity and personality that caters to the UK palate. Nearly 70% of the country’s entire wine grape harvest is sauvignon blanc.
There is one place where sauvignon blanc thrives beyond all others. Marlborough, at the north-eastern tip of South Island has a virtual monopoly on sauvignon blanc – the region produces some 90% of the country’s entire sauvignon blanc harvest.
So what is it about Marlborough that makes this patch of land so well suited to producing the crisp, pungent, immediately-appealing, refreshing mouthfuls of intensely herby and fruity wines that Brits go wild for?
The perfect storm of sunny days and cool nights helps develop and preserve the characteristic aromas and flavours of the variety. The Wairau valley around Blenheim in Marlborough was the first to be planted, only in 1973, on geologically young alluvial plains. This 25km stretch of floodplain is where the majority of vineyards remain, growing wines that blend Mediterranean melon and peach with tropical mango and pineapple.
An interesting development of the last decade or so has been the planting of the cooler, windier Awatere valley, (pronounced a-were-tree (short ‘a’)), a little further south. Awatere fruit is generally a bit more towards the cooler spectrum for sauvignon blanc – leaner, herbal, grassy, gooseberry, tomato leaf notes, with more spangly, sherbet-y acidity.
There are a few other smaller sub-regions, such as the small valleys on the southern side of the Wairua, but a polarisation is evolving between the riper Wairau and the more bracing Awatere styles of sauvignon blanc. While some producers blend between the regions, some interesting individuality of style is emerging between the two main regions.
Of my picks below, two of them are from the leaner, tighter Awatere. The Jackson Estate comes from plusher Wairau.
Majestic: Blind River, Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Marlborough, £12.49 (buy 2 bottles, save £5 – £9.99/bt)
Stone, Vine & Sun: The Crossings, Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Marlborough, £9.75
Waitrose: Jackson Estate, Stich Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Marlborough, £12.79