A ‘Wacky’ Sauvignon

The grape variety Sauvignon Blanc has been grown in France for at least 200 years and is, in fact, old enough to be one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon (along with another old-timer, Cabernet Franc).  The Cabernet Sauvignon link suggests that Sauvignon Blanc’s origins were in Bordeaux but growers in the Loire claim it is native there.  Who knows who is right (and does it matter?) but, for much of the 20th century, if you wanted to drink single variety Sauvignon Blanc, it was Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé (not to be confused with Pouilly Fuissé, which is Chardonnay) or one of the other eastern Loire Appellations.  Or, if you were happy with Sauvignon in a blend (normally with Sémillon), you looked to Bordeaux and to Graves for a dry example and Sauternes for a dessert wine.

And then, in the mid-1980s, everything changed.  Along came New Zealand, and specifically the Marlborough region, with their own very distinctive take on Sauvignon Blanc.  No longer the dry, austere, ‘flinty’ style from France, here was an altogether fresher, more zingy and lively white with instant appeal that gained popularity with remarkable speed, drawing on the success of the iconic Cloudy Bay brand.

When Cloudy Bay’s winemaker, Kevin Judd, decided to move on, he started his own label, Greywacke (pronounced ‘Grey wacky’), named after the dominant soil in the local vineyards.  On first smell and taste of Judd’s Greywacke Sauvignon, you might not think of New Zealand at all.  Here is a much more restrained version of the grape, almost French in style.  Yes, the characteristic acidity and grassy, citrussy flavours are there, but wrapped up in something far softer, more rounded and, for a variety that is sometimes described as a little one-dimensional, incredibly complex.  It is also very food-friendly; think delicate fish or lighter-style chicken dishes and you won’t go far wrong.  Not cheap for a Sauvignon, perhaps, (£20 in Majestic and widely available elsewhere for similar money) but, for me, the depth and breadth of flavour make it really worth the money.

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Nelson: Small but Diverse

My wife and I loved New Zealand wines even before we were lucky enough to visit there a few years ago.  Of course, we dropped in at a few vineyards as part of our sightseeing (and enjoyed plenty of tasting!).  But New Zealand is a larger country than many in the UK realise and, although we managed to get to several of the more famous wine regions, Nelson, in the far north-west corner of the South Island, is one we missed.  That is a shame because, even though it’s one of the smallest of the regions and dwarfed by Marlborough, its better-known neighbour to the east, its warm, maritime-influenced climate and poor, stony soils are ideal for vine growing.  And, despite its size, it’s home to as diverse an array of different grape varieties as you’ll find anywhere in New Zealand. 

One local company, Waimea Estates, alone, grow, at least 9 different varieties and Majestic Wines often have a selection of their bottles in stock.  I’ve particularly enjoyed their Sauvignon Blanc and Gruner Veltliner in the past so, when I saw the same firm’s Albariño on the shelf recently (£10.99), it was an obvious buy.

Albariño is a white variety native to Galicia in north-west Spain and to Portugal (where it is known as Alvarinho) and it’s only in the last decade or so that it has started to be planted more widely.  That’s a trend I hope will continue. Waimea’s example is beautifully clean and fresh with lovely floral aromas, peach and melon flavours and a long, attractive finish.  Drink it as an aperitif or team it, as the Galicians and Portuguese would, with grilled sardines, but it’s more versatile than that and I’m sure it would work well with a wide range of fish dishes.

I can only remember tasting one bottle of Albariño from New Zealand previously – an equally delicious example from Stanley Estates in Marlborough – but this quality variety clearly thrives in the conditions there and I’m looking forward to it becoming a common sight in vineyards across the country.

Buying Memories

How do you choose which wine to buy?  Well, something you’ve enjoyed before is always a good start.  Not surprisingly, we have quite a few that fall into that category; wines that I’ll always pick up when I see them. But I also like experimenting; always drinking the same wines and never trying anything new doesn’t appeal at all.  So, I’m often attracted by an unusual grape or a different wine region.  Sometimes I’ll research it before I buy, sometimes not.  And the results can be mixed, as you might expect!

But, perhaps, my favourite way to choose a bottle is to find one that brings back happy memories.  A few years ago, we were lucky enough to visit New Zealand and, of course, we arranged some wine tours while we were there. A couple of days exploring the Central Otago region on the South Island with Lance from Queenstown Wine Trail still stand out in my mind and especially a visit to the Mount Difficulty estate, the stunning view from their terrace pictured above.

We’ve loved their ‘Roaring Meg’ Pinot Noir ever since so, when I saw the same label’s Pinot Gris in Majestic (£13.99), it was an easy decision.

Pinot Gris (aka Pinot Grigio) can be very variable, as I’ve noted before in these blogs, ranging from thin, neutral and acidic through to rich, aromatic and flavoursome.  The Roaring Meg was certainly one of the latter; just a little off-dry – in no way sweet, but just retaining a pleasing touch of residual sugar balancing the variety’s naturally high acidity – with plenty of richness to fill the mouth (13.5% alcohol), attractive pear and peach flavours and a lovely long savoury finish.

The label recommends drinking it as an aperitif or with Asian dishes.  I’d widen that out considerably; this wine is deliciously food-friendly and would pair nicely with just about any dish in a subtle creamy or herby sauce. 

And for us, the wonderful memories come free as an added extra!