Kicking it Kiwi Style – A Guide to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
Summer is upon us, beckoning to take advantage of many opportunities to refresh and tantalize the palate with a variety of white wines, especially New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and I enjoy an ongoing, non-season specific, love affair. After a dozen or so years my relationship getting pretty serious, so I am expecting “The Question” to pop out of a bottle anytime now!
It started innocently enough, with a bottle of Cloudy Bay at a restaurant over some lovely sea bass. The next thing I knew, I was hunting down every NZ producer’s bottlings for comparative purposes. I found myself clearing out my local Costco’s wine department of their entire allocations of Saint Clair Vicar’s Choice. And the wine gracing my glass by the keyboard while I work in the evenings more often than not happens to be…you guessed it, my New Zealander boyfriend.
The Island of the Long White Cloud sure knows how to treat this particular wine grape, which is known for its unapologetic flavors of citrus, green melon, gooseberry, grapefruit, and often, a distinct grassiness. Some would say that New Zealand’s national image is indelibly shaped by its signature grape. Although varieties such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Riesling have found a welcoming home there, it is Sauvignon Blanc that rules the day.
It’s hard to believe that the first vines were planted only in 1973. Production has grown exponentially over the decades, with most being grown in the Marlborough region.Today, the island produces millions of bottles of this delicious, racy wine. The varietal accounts for over 80% of New Zealand’s wine exports.
Over the years, I’ve tasted hundreds of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. Here are a dozen for your consideration:
Consistently delicious, this brand earned my top Sauvignon Blanc spot as the King of Marlborough. Already known for its “regular” bottling, they launched their individual block program in 1994. Look for the very limited Pioneer Block 3, Block 1 Foundation, Block 18, and Vicar’s Choice.
Widely credited with giving New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc worldwide recognition, this brand secured a solid spot in my heart and my cellar over a decade ago. Cloudy Bay pioneered barrel fermentation of Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand with its Te Koko offering. It is a small production, deeply complex, dimensional, and beautifully textural wine.
Rich in viticultural history, Matua produced its first wine in 1974 and has been wowing consumers and critics ever since. They produce several distinctly different Sauvignon Blancs, including one of my favorites—Matua Paretai.
A blend of several unique vineyards, Astrolabe is a poster child of winemaking dedication of Simon Waghorn. Named after a navigational device for locating stars, Waghorn guides your palate through a wondrous adventure of aromatic pleasures.
Kim Crawford was founded in 1996 by Kim and Erica Crawford. Their extraordinarily consistent, focused, powerfully aromatic and affordable wines took the US by storm. In 2003, Wine Spectator placed them in their Top 100 list. The rest, as they say, is history. This brand has been my house wine for years.
Created by the original founders of Kim Crawford (they recently sold the brand), this wine winked at me from a wine store’s shelf in Oregon, and has been a steady companion since. I was immediately taken by it’s expansive, broad-shouldered, yet not overbearing palatal presence. Its aromatics are clear and present, yet take a back seat to the unmistakably present mid-palate and finish.
These wines are indeed a thing of beauty. With fruit sourced from hillside vineyards in stunning North Canterbury, it is refined yet decadent. It embodies a pure expression of passion, featuring floral and tropical flavors, slight herbaceousness, and bright, assertive minerality.
The lion’s share of their fruit is sold to Cloudy Bay, the rest is used to produce Dog Point. Fermented using natural yeasts, this Sauvignon Blanc is a breed apart from its peers. Texturally superb and deftly balanced, it’s a delight to consume.
Made by the founding winemaker at Cloudy Bay, Kevin Judd, Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc is wildly aromatic and assertive. Lovely citrus and crisp acidity dominate this perennially balanced effort that boasts freshness, delineation, and a supple mouth-feel. A long finish caps the exquisite pleasure of sipping this wine.
The Peabody Family decades of devotion to the craft of winemaking has resulted in stellar estate wines. Their Avery Road and Te Muna offerings are some of my all time favorites. Profoundly classy and elegant, these wines feature citrus, exotic tropical and stone fruit as well as a silky texture and chalky minerality.
Started humbly in 1960s, with a five acres leased from his dad, a single-minded proprietor was determined to make great wine from Auckland region. Today it has grown to be a worldwide brand with exports to dozens of countries. They produce eight wonderful Sauvignon Blancs, in addition to a large number of other varietals, all of which are stellar. The most readily available bottlings are the Reserve and Private Bin.
Steeped in hundreds of years of family history and possessing a deep, powerful bond to their land, several generations of the Macdonald family had tended to their beloved coastal vineyard. This wine is powerful and weighty, with seductive citrus aromas, framed by lively acidity and luminous minerality. It reflects a sense of place that is like no other.
New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs offer exciting and deeply satisfying wine adventures. I highly recommend that you jump in and try them all!