Three evolving styles of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

New Zealand’s Marlborough region is famous for singular Sauvignon Blanc, but as Chris Howard discovers, diverse expressions are well under way deep in the South Pacific.

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc’s overnight success simultaneously redefined the French variety and placed New Zealand on the wine world stage. Exploding on the scene in the late 1970s, the wines displayed an exuberance and vitality that had never been seen before.

In his Wine Atlas, Oz Clarke reflects: ‘No previous wine had shocked, thrilled, offended, entranced the world before with such brash, unexpected flavours of gooseberries, passion fruit and lime, or crunchy green asparagus spears.’ While loved by many for its immediate impact, herbaceous intensity and razor-sharp acidity, it has also been labelled a one-trick pony by scribes and sommeliers.

‘So much Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc tastes as if it’s come out of the same bottomless tank,’ said critic and Club Oenologique contributor Tim Atkin MW in a 2020 review. Jancis Robinson MW also recently noted: ‘There was a time when all NZSB seemed to taste the same – almost violently pungent with some obvious sweetness.’ Yet in recent years, the critics – including this pair – have warmed to the stylistic refinements and subregional expressions that demonstrate how one-note Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is moving along.

[…] Beyond experimenting with vessels, Erica Crawford of Loveblock has been pioneering the use of ‘tee’ (green tea, rooibos and honeybush) as an alternative to sulphur (the winemaker’s traditional preservative of choice). The tannins in the tee extract, like sulphur, turn out to have a significant antioxidant, preservative effect. Things get even more interesting when you taste her organic, single-vineyard Tee Sauvignon Blanc, with its unexpected notes of apricot, blood orange and fennel.

For Erica and others, the potential of Sauvignon Blanc is only just being tapped. She says: ‘Exploring the boundaries of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has been fascinating. We have seen flavours emerging that are not ordinarily associated with Sauvignon Blanc, such as saffron, cumin and mandarin zest.’

Read the full article here.

Chris Howard, Club Oenologique (Nov 2021)