Grapevine: It's worth making the step up from gluggable vino to these Kiwi whites
PUBLISHED: 13:41 02 June 2015 | UPDATED: 13:41 02 June 2015
New Zealand's sauvignon blanc producers are driving to improve complexity, says Liz Sagues.
What do you eat with Kiwi sauvignon blanc? Just about anything – or nothing – as the glugging popularity of what is far and away New Zealand’s biggest wine export proves. But think a little beyond the box and there are partnerships which can prove pretty exciting, as Michelin-starred chef Roger Jones demonstrated last month, on Sauvignon Blanc Day 2015.
Foie gras and salted caramel macaroons with the dry gooseberry edge of one Hawkes Bay wine was a revelation. And the pairing of a more tropical-style Martinborough wine with vine tomatoes, olives, goat’s cheese and fennel crumbs was so complementary to both wine and food – exactly what good matchmaking is all about.
But let’s forget the cheffy stuff (though it did prove that Kiwi sauvignon can be a good choice in a smart restaurant). What’s the future for this very distinctive, idiosyncratic wine?
Sauvignon blanc is the most widely grown grape in New Zealand, providing just over 70 percent of the nation’s wine, and plantings have doubled in the last seven years. Sales abroad are as good as the growers could hope for – 86 percent of all New Zealand wine exported and 38 percent of all sauvignon blanc sold in the UK.
But is there a hint of consumer boredom, a wish for something a little different? The way some respected growers are going, tweaking particular wines away from the classic styles, prompted a lot of educated debate among wine communicators on Sauvignon Blanc Day, and the discussion will surely be on-going.
Feelings were split down the middle: why change something that works, or why not encourage winemakers to move to new expressions. But the conclusions were actually pretty united – the two could run alongside, mass-market bottles staying true to their origins while some top wines changed a lot.
What, though, is happening now? One trend is to reduce alcohol levels. I’ve been impressed by some examples, but far from all – try The Doctors’ Marlborough 2014 (£9, waitrosecellar.com). Its alcohol, 9.5 percent, is limited not by tricksy cellar processes but by work in the vineyard to persuade the grapes to develop flavours of full ripeness at lower levels of sugar.
There’s growth, too, in sparkling sauvignon blanc, but “the less said the better” is the opinion of NZ wine guru Bob Campbell MW. Instead, he’s happy to praise “an altogether more serious, textural and complex style” of still wines from the most innovative producers. “The challenge is to retain reasonable fruit intensity while building extra nuances of flavour and greater texture.”
Experiencing the resulting wines is fascinating, and names Campbell suggests to try are Dog Point, Cloudy Bay, Villa Maria, Astrolabe, Saint Clair, Selaks, Seresin, Matua, Greywacke and Nautilus.
But I’d like to close by recommending two single-vineyard sauvignons from another leading producer, Craggy Range, which fragrantly and tastefully demonstrate regional differences: vibrant, crunchy Avery from Marlborough (£13, waitrosecellar.com) and complex, serious Te Muna Road from Martinborough (£15, nzhouseofwine.co.uk, henningswine.co.uk).
I asked the people who make them what’s perfect to eat with the Avery, and they suggested oysters with chive mignonette, as served in Craggy Range’s Terrôir restaurant.
It’s a long trip there, but that could be so rewarding.