Week 18 – Sauvignon Blanc

Tasting Notes

Emma Says: Confession time: Andy and I decided this week should be a New Zealand Sauvignon, since it is pretty much the modern classic example of this grape. But I’m actually not really a fan of this style of Sauvignon.

To me the wines often have a clumsy expression, all upfront, with pungent aromas and tropical flavours; let’s call it a “shouty” style of wine. My preferred version of Sauvignon would come from the cooler climate areas of France in the Loire; with the famous villages Sancerre and Pouilly Fume.

To get around this problem I cheated a little. Back in 2010 I was lucky enough to have three days learning basic winemaking in Marlborough, New Zealand. It was at that time that I learnt the style of Kiwi Sauv I like.  They come from particular cooler climate spots in the region Marlborough; my favourite being the Awatere Valley. This area has very brisk valley breezes that keep the grapes nice and chilled even in the warmer months. And for me the style have that bit of elegance as a result.

So I searched the supermarket shelves and found Astrolabe Awatere Valley Sauvignon £19.99. It is actually rare to find a wine 100% from that valley. Often wineries mix a little Awatere with wine from the warmer Wairau Valley to create balance between ripe fruit and the leaner style. Onto the taste of this wine. It didn’t disappoint, the aroma had a beautiful gentle elderflower herbal note, with a hint of more tropical passion fruit adding richness. Plus underlying there was a mineral flinty hit to the nose that gives it that bit of elegance.  To the palate it is generous but not oily and fat which can be the case with Kiwi Sauvignon.  It had a dense but gentle flavour with mountain herbs, sweet lemon balm and a pithy bite that refreshed the finish. The flavours really lasted too.

I happen to know Sancerre and the Loire in general had a terrible vintage last year so prices are about to go through the roof. So if you love these styles I would say this type of premium Kiwi Sauv is a perfect alternative.

And to end a final few interesting geek facts. The reason the Kiwi Sauv styles are so distinctly bold and lively in style is a mix of climate and winemaking. The climate has high UV rays and sunlight hours, this makes the skins thick and full of flavour and aroma. Then the Kiwis tend to leave the grape to have a bit of “cold maceration” before they crush and ferment that increases the aroma concentration. Finally that bell pepper bright tropical aroma is down to a compound called “thiols” that are high in Sauvignon grapes. In NZ they really favour this and try to enhance their character by using yeasts that are specially designed to bring that out in the fermentation. And “eh viola” you have the Kiwi Sauv style.

Andy says: I’ve been looking forward to Sauvignon week as it’s one of the few wines I can spot, because it usually smells like cat piss. Just Google “Sauvignon Blanc Cat” if you don’t believe me. If you’re a bit posher than me, then you’d say it smells of box hedge or boxwood, and if you’ve ever been near a blackcurrant tree, then that would apply too.

My initial sip somewhat knocked me back – this was very tart and sharp, and almost made my eyes water. It was also a little viscous and a little syrup-y, and whilst perfectly nice, I’m not sure I could drink too many glasses without getting a headache. Smell wise, apart from the cat piss box hedge (which wasn’t as strong as usual, as Emma had gone left field on the wine choice), I got honey suckle. I only know that as we had a honey suckle tree in the garden when I was younger.
I tried to talk wine with Emma. The conversation went thus:
“That’s just pure honeysuckle”
“Yeah it’s definitely honeyed”
“Honeysuckle, not honey”
“Yeah ok, but do you get elderflower too?”
“Yeah! I do – I knew there was a flavour there, I just couldn’t put my finger on it.”
“But it’s more of a sweet elderflower, not European elderflower”.
And that’s what it’s like discussing wine with a pro. Not only do you have to identify flavours, you have to know which sub species of a particular bush.

Buying Guide

Friday is Sauvignon Blanc day so we’re going with the theme and will be trying a classic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. We expect you’ve had your fair share of “Savvy Bs”, and encourage you to trade up a little and try a premium version. We can then all discuss if it is worth paying that little bit more for a Kiwi Sauvignon. Look out for one from the classic Marlborough region, and potentially an Awatere Valley sub region where the coolest climate styles come from.

6 thoughts to “Week 18 – Sauvignon Blanc”

  1. I tried Manuka Springs Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Oddbins, £10.75). I’m not quite sure what the manuka connection was, but there was a bee on the label.

    What can I say – it was precisely like you’d expect a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to be, which isn’t a bad thing in my view, even if it’s considered a bit “basic”.

    Very pale in appearance and really zingy on the nose. Nice and fresh with scents of grapefruit, tomato leaf, gooseberry. There wasn’t much of the hallmark cut-grass on the nose, but vegetal flavours came through on the palate. Crisp, fresh, light bodied and steely dry. Not much length, but a sharp, slightly tacky feeling finish.

    Nothing unusual or exceptional, but I liked it.

  2. Emma’s comments about the “average” NZ SB I agree with entirely- and cheap Australian examples are similar. This type of wine I detest, and I can’t for the life of me explain the popularity of this style. This is the peroxide blond of wine styles- blatant upfront exotic fruit on the nose and initially on the palate and then what should be mid palate collapses. The meagre finish is a little coarse, a bit like gewurz (more on that next week)
    I DO have some of this variety in my cellar, mostly from Sancerre eg Gerard Boulay Comtesse 2015. Far too young, but it responds to a good decant. Subtle aromatic fruit, with a little of the cut grass that helps to identify the variety, nothing shouty. But other aromas and fruit flavours of the non tropical and more understated type. One could almost think of Riesling. And racy acidity that prolongs the finish and keeps it all in balance. Fine winemaking.
    So there I’ve had my say, and you can call me a wine snob if you wish!

    1. Nice notes. I like the sound of your cellar. Although hearing what a terrible harvest Sancerre had last year I’d recommend you hold onto any more bottles you have. The 2017 are in really scarce supply!

  3. Wine – Mission Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Awatere Valley, 2017 (Le Bon Vin £14)
    Bottle says – Passion fruit, grapefruit, lemongrass, herbs

    As Emma says, this type of wine is typically quite ‘shouty’ – all I can say is some days you want to listen to Nick Cave, and some days its got to be Nine Inch Nails. (Showing my age there.) The ‘in-your-face’ characteristics of this wine, pretty much define it. If you want subtlety, there’s always the French.

    Although I buy NZ SB’s pretty regularly, this was a producer that I’ve not tried before (I stopped buying Cloudy Bay a few years back, it went from a ‘WOW’ wine to a ‘MEH’ wine pretty quickly.) On the nose, I got massive grapefruit (a much maligned fruit in certain quarters, I believe) and gooseberry, with a hint of lemon. On tasting, the grapefruit is still dominant, and the lemon is even more pronounced, the citrus element underlined by the acidity of this wine, which seemed quite high. This particular wine seems to be missing the ‘freshness’ you usually get with NZ SB’s; this is most noticeable on the finish, which seems a little earthy and underwhelming. Still a nice wine, but there are better examples out there (the Small & Small Marlborough SB from Naked Wines comes to mind)

    1. Hi Jason, nice note. I think I need to use music comparisons a little more often. Interesting to hear you’ve moved on from Cloudy Bay. If you haven’t tried Greywacke or Dog Point those are my two other top premium Sauv producers for the more elegant styles too…

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