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Exploring New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

Look for a definition of a premium New World wine region and New Zealand will be your answer. Viticulture there dates back to 1836, when Scottish-born oenologist (and father of Australian Wine) James Busby started planting vines on his estate in Waitangi, but it was in the early 1970s that Brancott Estate (then Montana) first planted Sauvignon Blanc, and a series of vine-pull schemes in 1984 helped a drive towards top-quality wines.  Today, critics such as Oz Clarke reckon that it produces some of the finest Sauvignon Blanc in the world, and I would tend to agree.

Marlborough is on the north-eastern tip of the South Island, and has earned a reputation for producing top-quality Sauvignon Blanc with intense varietal characteristics.  The key regions are the Wairau Valley around the town of Blenheim, the Waihopai River, and Renwick. Though Sauvignon wears the crown in Marlborough, the region is producing very fine Pinot Noir and Chardonnay; producers have been experimenting with Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gruner Veltliner and Gewurtztraminer with very exciting results.

A view of the Ned Vineyards at Marisco in Marlborough.
A view of the Ned Vineyards at Marisco in Marlborough.

Close to Marlborough is Nelson, which lies to the west of its more famous neighbour.  The climate here is similar, particularly well suited to aromatic varieties, and produces wines with a slightly richer texture and palate weight.  Pinot Gris in particular seems to thrive in this region, and some producers such as Waimea have had great success with Gruner Veltliner.

Waimea Estate, Nelson
Waimea Estate, Nelson

On the southern tip of the North Island lies Wairarapa, home to Gladstone, Masterton, Opaki, and Martinborough.  One of New Zealand’s smallest wine-growing regions, Martinborough produces some of the best quality wines, especially Pinot Noir.  Most of the wineries here are small family-owned affairs, with a focus on low yields of exceptionally high quality fruit. Over time, several sites such as Te Muna and Dry River have shown to give excellent results for Sauvignon, with rich tropical fruit characters and ripe texture.

Although Sauvignon holds the crown in New Zealand, varieties such Pinot Noir and Chardonnay have been growing in popularity, and more producers are now planting a range of white aromatics.  The Specialist Winegrowers of New Zealand represent a group of ultra-premium artisan winemakers who have chosen to each focus on a single variety, often from single vineyards.  One such winemaker is Sarah Inkersell at Fairbourne Estate, who believes that Marlborough Sauvignon has only just begun to define itself.  Through the work of talented winemakers like Sarah, we’re beginning to see individual character emerge from regions and vineyard sites.

Where New Zealand really shines is in the production of premium wines, although there’s certainly great value to be found.  We have made a selection of wines that show off the different regional styles of Sauvignon Blanc, as well as a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that demonstrate just how well these varieties perform in Aotearoa, the land of the Long White Cloud.

The Ned Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough

37168

Our top-selling New Zealand Sauvignon, The Ned is a brilliant, textbook example of everything that’s great about Marlborough. The vineyards of The Ned are located on the banks of the Waihopai River and on the southern side of the Wairau Valley. The river runs the length of the 268ha vineyard and is the origin of the shingle-based soil.  Gooseberry, citrus and nettles with a smoky twist on the nose lead into notes of passionfruit and feijoa on the palate with a stony mineral finish.

Waimea Sauvignon Blanc, Nelson

37140

Nelson lies to the West of Marlborough, and runs along the north coast of the South Island.  Waimea are a family run Estate producing fantastic aromatic wines, and their Sauvignon Blanc shows the slightly weightier style of the grape than you find in Marlborough.  It’s stainless steel fermented to retain all the glorious fruit character, packed with lime, passionfruit and gooseberry and a grassy lick on the finish.  A great wine to enjoy with friends over a light summery lunch!

Fairbourne Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough

37230

One of the Specialist Winegrowers of New Zealand, Fairbourne aren’t your average Marlborough producer; some Kiwi Sauvignon can be like being slapped in the face with a gooseberry bush, Sarah Inkersell’s wines are all about subtlety and complexity, exploring the potential of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc to make interesting, multi-dimensional wines.  Taken from north-facing clay gravel slopes, a small portion of the wine is barrel-aged for complexity, leading to delicate gooseberry fruit, zesty lime and fresh pineapple, alongside a soft aroma of hay and white tea; very pure and very fine.  Fresh seafood is the way to go for this wine, though Insalata Caprese would be a great pairing too.

Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough

37155

Saint Clair’s house style is big and bold, with maximum expression of varietal fruit character, without sacrificing finesse.  This is a favourite of mine, showing the Wairau subregion to its full potential.  Crisp gooseberry and passionfruit, their signature streak of blackcurrant leaf, stone fruits, and a deliciously fine texture; fantastic concentration of flavour.  Pair it with scallops pan-fried with chorizo, or if you’re the Oyster type, this is the wine to reach for.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough

37043

The wine by which all other Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs are judged, Cloudy Bay’s Sauvignon Blanc is the benchmark in style and varietal expression.  Consistent, highly regarded, delicious; you know exactly where your money is going.  Classic aromas of gooseberry, elderflower and passionfruit, a bright and fresh texture that isn’t without weight.  Say what you like about their marketing team, the wine is superbly crafted and is a textbook example of premium Marlborough Sauvignon.

You can explore our full range of New Zealand wines online here!