Home > New Zealand, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Wine Tasting > New Zealand, Familiar and Not

New Zealand, Familiar and Not

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc TastingHere is your motivational quote of the day: “open your mind, and discovery will follow”. If you are wondering what the heck is wrong with this Talkavino guy starting the wine post with motivational quote, read on, I will explain.

Today we will be talking about the wines of New Zealand. What is the first wine which comes to mind when you think “New Zealand”? Don’t know about you, but for me it is a Sauvignon Blanc. Closely followed by Pinot Noir. But then there is beautiful Chardonnay, and Bordeaux blends, and Riesling – please, don’t forget the Riesling!

Two weeks ago I attended the New Zealand wine tasting event in New York. The event consisted of the seminar and the tasting, so below you will find my notes from both. But before I will inundate you with the wines and the tasting notes, let me share some general thoughts.

New Zealand wine industry is relatively young. First Sauvignon Blanc was planted in 1973, and first commercial release took place in 1979. [However, the first vines were planted in New Zealand in 1819, and in 1881 Pinot Noir from Central Otago got gold medal in the “Burgundy” category at the wine show in Sydney – but let’s leave it aside for now]. Through the 1980s, Cloudy Bay found its magic, and New Zealand wines spread out throughout the world (definitely in US). The New Zealand wine export had been growing steadily for many years, from 30M gallons of wine in 2009 to the 44M gallons in 2013, also reaching almost US $1B in revenues in 2013. Also, a lot of New Zealand wineries utilize sustainable winemaking methods and use organic grapes (you can read more here).

What I also sense from reading the blogs and listening to the experts is that the New Zealand winemakers are feeling constrained by what they already achieved and are trying to break the boundaries. Few simple facts for you. There are 11 defined wine regions in New Zealand. However, many winemakers believe that this is not enough, and want to define the sub-regions with much smaller boundaries. Such sub-regions are not yet official [I might stand corrected here – according to the New Zealand wine web site, the sub-regions are defined, but I still don’t know how widespread or how official those designations are], but on many labels you can already see designations for the sub-regions, such as Awatere or Waihopai in Marlborough, or Pisa in Central Otago. Different soils, different micro-climates, different terroirs, if you will – all lead to production of stylistically different wines coming from the different areas of the same bigger region.

There is more to this “breaking the boundaries”. New Zealand wine is not only a Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. There are Syrah, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and even Grüner Veltliner and Chenin Blanc wines which are shining. And even familiar Sauvignon Blanc is taking to the totally new territories, by using oak and not only – which leads us to the seminar, so we can finally talk wines.

The seminar was very interesting. It was done in the unusual format. There was no classroom with a head table and presenters. There was a big roundtable (well, it was actually a square), with presenters and winemakers sitting around the room among the participants. But this was not the most unique characteristic of the event. There were 9 Sauvignon Blanc wines presented in the event. And all 9 were … oaked. With the various degree, but yes, all Sauvignon Blanc wines went through some oak ageing process. There was also a 7 years old Sauvignon Blanc wine, which was quite unique for me. All in all, it was very different and interesting. Was it successful? I will defer you to my notes below. Here we go.

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2014 Amisfield Sauvignon Blanc Central Otago (SRP $20)
C: pale straw
N: fresh cut grass, very restrained, lemon notes, minerality, touch of sapidity, interesting complexity.
P: tremendous acidity, more of a Muscadet style, lots of minerality, food wine (oysters!)
V: nice and restrained, Drinkability: 8-

2014 Nautilus Sauvignon Blanc Marlboro (SRP $17.99)
C: light straw, greenish
N: concentrated green notes, more of a fresh vegetables greens in the garden than grass. Touch of sweetness after swirling the glass.
P: very restrained, complex, salinity, white stone fruit, acidity on the finish.
V: Drinkability: 7+

2014 Huia Sauvignon Blanc Marlboro (SRP $19)
C: pale straw
N: hint of gasoline – disappeared after intense swirling. Touch of white fruit, restrained. Hint of lemon. Overall, nose is not very pronounced.
P: tremendous acidity, hint of Granny Smith apples
V: wine finishes nowhere, lacking conclusion. Drinkability: 7-

2014 Neudorf Sauvignon Blanc Nelson (SRP $17.95)
C: light straw yellow
N: non-typical. But may be a distant hint of grass.
P: lemon, fresh, supple, good acidity, nice textural presence. Still, tremendous amount of acidity is coming through, plus tannins in the finish!
V: Drinkability: 7+, okay wine

2014 Craggy Range Te Muna Road Sauvignon Blanc Marlboro (SRP $28.99)
C: pale yellow
N: touch of vanilla, touch of tropical fruit, hint of grapefruit
P: great complexity, restrained, guava, lemon, minerality, grass, touch of tannins, but it is well integrated.
V: Drinkability: 7+

2013 Seresin Marama Sauvignon Blanc Marlboro (SRP $40)
C: light yellow
N: butter, vanilla, butterscotch- wow, is this is a Chard? Pronounced, concentrated flavors!
P: vanilla, butter, more akin to a butterscotch candy, fresh and exuberant! The clearest expression of butterscotch candy of any wines I ever had (bold, I know)
V: it gets 8 (or even 8+) as a Chardonnay and 6 as Sauvignon Blanc. I would be glad to drink this wine – just don’t tell me what it is.

2013 Trinity Hill Sauvignon Blanc Hawke’s Bay (SRP $16.99)
C: light straw yellow
N: very inexpressive. Whatever I think I smell, is a product of my imagination. After 5 minutes of swirling, grass showed up, more of a typical expected SB. Still Very restrained.
P: nice acidity, good with oysters, nice touch of white fruit, fresh and clean
V: Drinkability: 7

2012 Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Blanc Waipara Valley (SRP $28)
C: pale straw yellow
N: complex aromatics, touch of oak, elevated white fruit (apples, hint of tropical fruit). One of the best on the nose so far. Distant hint of grass
P: Elegant, fresh, well integrated acidity, apples
V: one of the best in the tasting. Drinkability: 8-

2008 Mahi Ballot Block Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough (SRP $24)
C: light yellow, doesn’t show the age at all
N: some vegetative notes and fresh salami (yes, you can unfollow me if you want). Some distant resemblance of fruit. On a second thought, it has a Chablis-like minerality. The sausage is off, Chablis is in.
P: most elegant palate in the tasting. Acidity definitely wore off, but the wine is elegant, complex, mellow, just an interesting wine in the style of nicely aged white Rhône.
V: best of the tasting. Very round and elegant. Drinkability: 8.

And then there was a tasting. I didn’t get an opportunity to taste all the wines. Also, as you would expect, I liked some wines more than the others. Thus below are the wines which I liked the most from what I tasted. Oh wait, I still have to explain myself with that “open your mind” intro. Let me do it now, the story is rather simple.

What flavors do you typically associate with the Sauvignon Blanc? Grass? Check. Lemon? Check. Grapefruit? Check. Gooseberry? As Chris Kassel mentioned recently, most of the people who didn’t live in Europe have no idea how Gooseberry smells or tastes, but okay. Check. Some white tropical fruit? Possible and Check. But what about Black Currant? I don’t know about you, but I don’t associate red or black berry aromas with Sauvignon Blanc. But – black currant is one of the main characteristic aromas of Cabernet Sauvignon. And Sauvignon Blanc is a parent of Cabernet Sauvignon. Thus when I heard from one of the hosts talking about the wine “beautiful black currant aroma”, that was a nail on the head! Yes – exactly – the revelation – forget the damn Gooseberry, just open your mind (talking to myself) and understand that black fruit can be associated with white wine (I’m sure the opposite is true). I would honestly say this was my main discovery of the tasting, the revelation.

Now let’s get back to wines. My absolute favorites where Sophora Sparkling wines (simply a wow and an incredible QPR), Syrah from Elephant Hill, Chenin Blanc from Astrolabe, Sauvignon Blanc from Saint Clair, Doctors Grüner Veltliner and Lake Chalis lightly fizzed Sauvignon Blanc – all shown in blue below. But all in all, lots of delicious wines in the tasting. All prices are suggested retail as listed in the brochure. Let’s go:

2014 Amisfield Sauvignon Blanc Pisa, Otago ($20) – +++, clean, restrained
2013 Amisfield Pinot Gris Pisa, Otago ($25) – +++, nice touch of oak
2011 Amisfied Pinot Noir Pisa, Otago ($35) – ++1/2, nice balance, still needs time
2012 Amisfied Pinot Noir Pisa, Otago ($35) – +++, elegant, round, touch of green notes

2014 Ara Pathway Sauvignon Blanc Waihopai, Marlborough ($16.99) – +++, very good, traditional
2013 Ara Pathway Pinot Noir Waihopai, Marlborough ($18.99) – ++1/2, nice, clean
2014 Ara Single Estate Sauvignon Blanc Waihopai, Marlborough ($19.99) – +++, clean, balanced
2013 Ara Single Estate Pinot Noir Waihopai, Marlborough ($23.99) – ++1/2, very good, tannins, needs time

2012 Astrolabe Province Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough ($23) – +++, excellent, black currant, perfect balance
2014 Astrolabe Province Pinot Gris Marlborough ($23) – +++, beautiful aromatics
2012 Astrolabe Province Pinot Noir Marlborough ($28) – +++1/2, excellent!! Best of tatsing?
2013 Astrolabe Vineyards Chenin Blanc Wrekin Vineyard Southern Valleys, Marlborough ($22) – +++, concentrated, Vouvray-like, excellent, creamy

NV Sophora Sparkling Rosé Hawke’s Bay ($16) – +++, wow! beautiful – aromatics and structure of the classic Chgampagne. Outstanding QPR
NV Sophora Sparkling Cuvée Hawke’s Bay ($16) – +++, equally excellent as the previous wine

2012 Domaine-Thomson Surveyor Thomson Single Vineyard Pinot Noir Lowburn, Otago ($44) – ++1/2
2011 Domaine-Thomson Surveyor Thomson Single Vineyard Pinot Noir Lowburn, Otago ($44) – +++, excellent!

2013 Elephant Hill Syrah Hawke’s Bay ($28) – ++++, spectacular! An absolute precision of Syrah with peppery profile

2014 Fire Road Sauvignon Blanc Marlboro ($13) – ++1/2, nice, simple, balanced
2013 Fire Road Pinot Noir Marlboro ($15) – ++1/2, probably best QPR at the tasting

2013 Doctors Grüner Veltliner Marlborough ($18) – +++, touch of petrol, nice
2014 Doctors Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough ($18) – +++, nice, clean, good acidity
2013 Seifried Pinot Gris Nelson ($18) – ++1/2, clean, nice
2012 Seifried Riesling Nelson ($18) – +++, petrol, beautiful
2013 Maimai Syrah Hawke’s Bay ($20) – +++, excellent, dark
2014 Lake Chalis Cracklin’ Savie Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough ($18) – +++1/2, beautiful, fresh, lightly fizzed, very unique. Similar to Moscato in creaminess, but dry
2014 Lake Chalis Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough ($18) – +++, perfect, black currant, beautiful!

2014 Saint Clair Family Estate Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough ($17.99) – +++, beautiful balance
2014 Saint Clair Pioneer Block 18 Snap Block Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough ($26.99) – +++, interesting complexity
2012 Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc Wairau, Marlborough ($31.99) – +++1/2, very complex, very unusual
2012 Saint Clair Pioneer Block 16 Pinot Noir Awatere, Marlborough ($17.99) – +++, Oregon-like, very elegant

And we are done here. What do you think of New Zealand wines? What are your favorites? Did you ever associated Sauvignon Blanc aromas with black currant? Until the next time – cheers!

  1. May 16, 2015 at 2:12 am

    Fabulous Anatoli – looking forward to sourcing some of these wines that you’ve mentioned – there are a few wineries in there that I haven’t heard of before. Slightly curious though… does one want a “touch of petrol” in one’s wine??? I think I’d prefer the freshly opened can of tennis balls, before the petrol… I’m intrigued! 🙂

    • talkavino
      May 16, 2015 at 7:46 am

      Glad to offer you a few of the new names 🙂 For your question, I hope we will have an opportunity to drink wine together one day 🙂 Petrol is an interesting characteristic – it is mostly an aromatic profile, there no “petrol profile” in the actual taste of the wine. Not everybody like it – I personally do, and it is an acquired taste, of course. From my experience, that presence of petrol indicated a very pleasant wine – again, talking about personal experience.
      Never had an opportunity to smell fresh tennis balls on the wine though, so I can’t tell you if I would like that…

  2. May 16, 2015 at 3:11 am

    I wondered about the petrol nose too, isn’t that more typical of aged riesling and semillon? We dined at Elephant Hill Winery in March, had a spectacular meal matched to their wines. Their Syrah made quite an impact on us too. Another of our favourites NZ syrah’s is Te Whau from Waiheke Islands. The 2010 vintage is drinking beautifully!

    • talkavino
      May 16, 2015 at 7:58 am

      I can’t tell you what causes petrol aromatics on the Riesling (I know of a famous Alsatian winemaker who considers that flavor to be a fault of the winemaker), but it is not associated with age – I had it on the perfectly young wines, and I had it on the older wines. And I do like it.
      Elephant Hill was the last winery I stopped by, and I’m glad I tried the Syrah – there were plenty of other Pinot in the event, but this was one of the only a few Syrah, and it was outstanding.

      • May 18, 2015 at 1:26 pm

        It is true that young rieslings can have petrol, but in my experience it does develop with age (or perhaps other aromas diminish?). I like it, too. Some winemakers say it is related to a terroir with slate. Is this also the case in NZ?

        • talkavino
          May 20, 2015 at 11:46 am

          This is interesting – it is quite possible the slate is a key factor here – will need to start paying attention to that. Not sure what soil it is in the case of NZ though.

  3. May 18, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    My love for wine drinking started in Sancerre/Pouilly-Fumé and thus my very first wine tasting ever already included oaked sauvignon blanc, which is what some of the better producers use there, in moderation, for their premium wines. I’m talking Henri Bourgeois “La Bourgeoise” (Sancerre) or “La Demoiselle de Bourgeois” (Pouilly-Fumé) (both made in barriques of which a small percentage is new) or Masson-Blondelet “Tradition Cullus” (made in new 400 litre oak casks, after the tradition of grandfather Cullus). Especially the latter is deliciously rich and unlike other Pouilly-Fumé, but still recognizable as sauvignon blanc and it is still great with goat cheese (especially when the goat cheese is combined with foie gras…).
    When I was travelling through NZ, at most restaurants where we ate the “tropical fruit” of the savblancs was used as a way to sell the wine. That didn’t work for me. On the contrary, after a week, I was getting very tired of all that tropical fruit and was glad when I could find one with less tropical fruit and more minerality.

    • talkavino
      May 20, 2015 at 11:49 am

      Yes, I understand that sentiment and I know that many people are annoyed by that “tropical fruit” in NZ SB. I’m primarily going after the balance, but I think the key element I’m looking for in the SB is a fresh grass. That and a cat pee, please 🙂

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