To mark international sauvignon blanc day, Peter Ranscombe goes on a mission to find exciting examples from New Zealand and beyond.
FEW grapes split that audience like sauvignon blanc.
For some, it’s the very epitome of freshness, with crisp acidity balanced by either savoury asparagus or tropical guava.
For others, it’s over acidic, over hyped, and over here.
While it’s not a grape variety for which I reach often, it plays a really important role in food and wine matching, as I’ve demonstrated on multiple occasions in the Wine to Dine column in the printed and digital editions of Scottish Field magazine.
The grape’s spiritual home may be in the Loire Valley in Northern France, but its commercial success around the world has been driven by New Zealand.
Scotland’s antipodean cousin planted its first sauvignon blanc vines as recently as 1973, with the first commercially-available bottles following in 1979.
Since then, it’s swept to international success, accounting for 73% of New Zealand’s output and 86% of its exports, with the Marlborough region boasting 89% of the country’s plantings.
The next step will be helping consumers to explore sub-regions within Marlborough and regions in other parts of New Zealand, as was discussed during an industry masterclass on Wednesday night.
Trade body New Zealand Winegrowers has captured the pubic’s imagination with international sauvignon blanc day, so what better time to explore exciting examples, both from New Zealand and beyond…?
Finest Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (£8, Tesco)
For £8, this is a steal. The guava and passionfruit on the nose are nicely restrained compared to many supermarket examples, with peachy notes joining the tropical fruit on the palate to balance the textbook high acidity. Hats off to Indevin, which made the wine for Tesco.
Little Darling Organic Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (£13.20, L’Art du Vin)
Not only the star of L’Art du Vin’s spring tasting back in March, but also one of the five bottles I selected to accompany white fish in the Wine to Dine column. Being an organic wine, it has much more distinct and concentrated fruit flavours to balance its acidity.
Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (£27.95, The Fine Wine Company)
And now for something completely different, as was once uttered in Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Winemaker Kevin Judd uses natural yeasts and ferments the grapes in wooden barrels instead of stainless steel tanks to turn them into wine – the result is much more savoury. Grown-up New Zealand sauvignon blanc – and the subject of what remains one of my favourite tastings.
Warwick The First Lady Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (£12.95, Wine Direct)
Our first stop beyond New Zealand’s shores is South Africa; for me, the country’s over-riding style sits somewhere between New Zealand’s concentrated fruit flavours and the Loire’s cat pee-soaked asparagus austerity. Not a bad place to be. The “first lady” in question on the label is Warwick-founder and South African pioneer Norma Ratcliffe. I’ve not always been a fan of this wine, but the 2019 vintage is looking great at the moment, with enough attractive green pepper and asparagus flavours to balance its fresh acidity, with savoury lemon rind joining the party on the palate.
Santa Digna Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (£10.30, Tanners)
Regular readers will know there are few things that appeal to me more than a fair trade wine – helping people while enjoying delicious vino – and so this example from Spanish giant Miguel Torres’ operations in Chile ticks extra boxes for me. Chile’s sauvignon blancs tend to be more savoury than those from New Zealand and this example definitely has stalkier asparagus and lemon rind notes in amongst those hairy gooseberries.
Exquisite Collection Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (£5.99, Aldi)
Back to sauvignon blanc’s spiritual home in the Loire Valley for our final wine – a great value Touraine courtesy of German discount grocer Aldi. Attractive lemon and lemon rind notes on the nose and then a slice of green pepper slipping in there on the palate to help balance the acidity. By the time you knock off the taxes in the form of duty and VAT, there’s not a whole lot being spent on the grapes, but the pennies with which the buyer parted were clearly well spent.