Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

Published by Sally on May 16, 2009

A version of this article first appeared in Hampshire View, November 2008.

We had port and lemon in the 70s. We had rum and coke in the 80s. We had gin and tonic in the 90s. And in the ‘noughties’ we have New Zealand sauvignon blanc as our aperitivo du jour. And even more than that, it has to be Marlborough sauvignon blanc, from the northern bit of the South Island. 

Marlborough Vineyards

Marlborough Vineyards

More than two-thirds of all the wine the UK imports from New Zealand is sauvignon blanc. Which is more than 29 million bottles of the stuff. But what is it that makes Marlborough sauvignon blanc so great? 

The smell of the wine should be enticing, enlivening, zesty, full of summer grass mowings, pink grapefruit, tropical guava and mango fruit, enough to make you want to dive into the glass and take an obviously moderate slurp, letting the bracing, racing acidity explode your taste buds into action. Intense, pungent summer flavours wake up the senses and move you into the pre-dining moments of wind-down and relaxation. 

Consistency is part of Marlborough’s magic with sauvignon blanc, but it’s not true to say that they all taste the same.  However, by the time you’ve judged, blind, 100 in three days (alongside other varieties), as I did in one of the competitions earlier this year, it can be tricky coming up with new ways to describe the flavours. For high quality there are indeed many flavour as well as tactile and quality differences:  elegance, length and intensity of flavours are big deciders, as well as a richness and lushness of primary fruit without sugar-sweetness that combines with the racy, zesty acidity to jump-start the palate. 

Marlborough sauvignon blanc is usually unoaked, which adds to its aperitif appeal, but sometimes just a smidge of oak can add a bit more dimension, texture and creaminess without imparting active oak flavours. You won’t even notice the technique has been used in the good examples, except you may find yourself having the wine with the starter instead of as an aperitif. 

Try these for size, two from the mainstream and one from Salisbury-based on-line New Zealand specialists ‘’. Normally the rule of thumb for Marlborough sauvignon blanc is to drink the youngest available.  2008s have only recently come into the market, but their sauvignon blanc, a 2006, has put on a little weight (yes, some wines do this too, with a little (bottle) age!) which adds an attractive dimension to the flavour profile. 

Majestic: Nautilus Estate Marlborough Sauvignon blanc 2008 £9.99
M&S: Flaxbourne Sauvignon blanc 2008, Marlborough, NZ, £7.99 Two Rivers Marlborough Wairau Sauvignon Blanc 2006 £7.99

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