In the mid-1980s New Zealand released to the world what would become one of the most distinctive and appreciated white wine styles of the modern era. Sauvignon Blanc was the grape variety responsible, and Marlborough was the region on the tip of wine drinker’s tongues world over.
Cloudy Bay was the first winery to make the all-important breakthrough, and whilst as a global brand it may have lost some of its providence, it typified what so many people loved about this amazing new wine style.
Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc doesn’t hold back any punches, and by delivering big flavours it is hugely appealing and incredibly drinkable. The nose of freshly cut grass, nettles and gooseberry is only a precursor to the explosive party of tropical fruit and racy acidity that engulfs palate.
Located at the north eastern tip of the South Island, Marlborough benefits from a maritime climate, where its close proximity to the sea has a calming influence, bringing mild winters and cool summers. A key characteristic of this climate is the fall in temperature after dark. Whenever the grapes have been ripening during the day, consistent cold nights help bare fruit that will produce wines of high acidity, one of the trademarks of New Zealand wine.
The various vineyard plots make for interesting drinking. As the soils change so do the wines. The best sites have shallow, stony soils where irrigation is almost essential as they are naturally free-draining. Luckily, Marlborough receives relatively low rainfall otherwise it might not exist as a wine producing region at all.
Generally, the best wines come from winery-owned vineyards, where the winemaker can keep a tight control of irrigation, vine tending and harvesting. Some critics suggest that because contract growers are paid by weight, there is less emphasis on quality, although some now use contract wineries to make and bottle their own wine. The final proof can only ever be in the drinking.
With Sauvignon Blanc making such an impact it’s all too easy to overlook the other varieties on offer. Chardonnay is Marlborough’s second most planted white grape variety, but it certainly shouldn’t be looked upon simply as second best. Pinot Grigio (Gris) and Riesling will also stake a claim for the best white wine offering, but when it comes to red there’s only one. Don’t expect much change from a €20 note for the better Pinot Noirs, but these will often deliver better value than many a Burgundy Pinot Noir at twice the price.