Tag Archives: Sauvignon Blanc

The Rise of Marlborough

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50 years ago, there wasn’t a single commercial vine planted in New Zealand’s Marlborough region. Today, wherever you look, you see little else. This incredible transformation was begun by the giant Montana company (now trading as Brancott Estate) but it was Cloudy Bay that really put Marlborough – and New Zealand wine in general – on the world wine map in 1985 with the launch of their iconic Sauvignon Blanc.

So influential was this wine that the Sauvignon Blanc variety now accounts for more than half of New Zealand’s entire vineyard area and more than 80% of its wine exports.

As you might guess, I love New Zealand’s wines but with a warning: they’re rarely cheap; good value given their generally high quality, yes, but not cheap. In fact, the average price of New Zealand wines sold in the UK is higher than for those from any other country. Many factors contribute to this: the cool and unpredictable climate, the relatively small production and the distance they have to be shipped are among the most important.

So I had to shop carefully when I needed to include one in a tasting recently and was given a fairly tight budget to work to. Happily, a wine I’ve bought before, Hartley’s Block Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, again came to the rescue.

NZ Sauv Bl (2)It shows all the style I’m looking for and yet is comparatively reasonably priced at £7.49 in Waitrose. Not bargain-basement I’ll admit, but pretty good for New Zealand and actually remarkably good value for money.

It’s quite restrained for a New Zealand Sauvignon – none of the assertive flavours (often rudely described as ‘cats pee’) you sometimes find – just lovely pink grapefruit and aromatic hints of elderflower combined with a surprising richness given the coolish climate.

All in all, a delightful wine for the money and one that confirms New Zealand’s reputation as one of the most reliable countries from whom to buy wine.

 

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Location, Location, Location

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KrasnoThere’s a saying in the property business that the 3 most important factors in determining how much you can sell your house for are ‘location, location and location’.  It seems it’s much the same with wine; a bottle we opened recently could easily have cost twice as much if it had come from one of the more fashionable parts of the wine world – Sancerre or Pouilly Fumé, perhaps – yet the delicious, Sauvignon Blanc-based white, Krasno, was just £7.99 from Majestic!  Why? It came from Slovenia.

Not to be confused with Slovakia, (the eastern part of the now divided Czechoslovakia), Slovenia was always the most forward and outward looking part of the former Yugoslavia from a wine point of view and, in 1992, the country was the 1st to declare independence.  Some of its vineyards, particularly those in the Goriska Brda area, where Krasno comes from, adjoin those of Italy’s Friuli region and, in fact, a number of growers have land on both sides of the border; how do they label their wine if it’s blended from some grapes from their Italian vineyards and some from Slovenia, I wonder?

But, back to the Krasno: apart from the Sauvignon Blanc, the blend also comprises a high quality grape variety local to both Friuli and Slovenia: Ribolla Gialla.  The combination produces an attractive, quite fragrant white with hints of elderflower and lovely ripe pears on the palate.  Although the Sauvignon is the majority grape, you wouldn’t immediately identify it as the flavours are richer than a Loire Sauvignon and with less tropical fruit than a New Zealand example.  It seems the Ribolla Gialla is punching above its weight and giving the wine real ripeness and character.  For just £7.99, the length is excellent, too.

And that’s all due to where this wine comes from.  Customers will pay for famous names and well-known regions so, if you’re looking for a real bargain, remember the property motto: location, location and location.

Rotten Grapes make Great Wine!

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Ask a wine lover to name a sweet wine and chances are the reply will be ‘Sauternes’. This golden nectar is made from a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes (with occasionally a little Muscadelle as well) in a tiny area 6 miles long by barely 4 miles wide a short drive south of Bordeaux. Both the location and the grape varieties are vital to making Sauternes the wine it is.

Sauvignon Blanc is a naturally high acid variety and so adds refreshing ‘lift’ to the wine which, without it, could be dull and cloying. But it’s the Semillon that holds the real key. It is a very thin-skinned variety and, as such, is very susceptible to rot. Rot is normally an enemy to winemakers, introducing off flavours into wine, but in certain circumstances, a particular type of rot becomes a friend. And in the warm, damp, humid conditions often occurring during a Bordeaux autumn, this so-called ‘noble’ rot (or botrytis) can be found most years.

Botrytis works in a strange way. It attacks the berries and makes dozens of pin-prick holes in them. Add a little sunshine and, as the grapes are warmed, the moisture inside them starts to evaporate through the holes, concentrating the sweetness in the berries so that, when they’re picked and sent to the winery for fermentation, the yeast struggles to cope with all the sugar. It converts some to alcohol, but plenty remains to give a wonderful, luscious sweet wine.

Sauternes Ch FilhotThe most famous name of Sauternes, Château d’Yquem, sells for hundreds of £s a bottle, but the Château Filhot (pictured) is a remarkably good, elegant and affordable alternative, available quite widely including from Grape and Grind of Bristol for £12.99 a half bottle. Enjoy with desserts, of course (tarte tatin is a great match), but also with some blue cheese – Roquefort would be the traditional choice, but St Agur or the creaminess of a Dolcelatte would go well too.

Sancerre Style, not Sancerre prices

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ReuillySancerre and Pouilly Fumé, the twin towns of the eastern Loire, turn out some lovely wines. But, because they are famous names and always in demand, the best tend to be expensive (you can easily pay £15 – £20 or even more). And, if you go for some of the cheaper examples found in supermarkets instead, they can be quite disappointing. So, how do you get the lovely, racy, pungent flavours of a good Loire Sauvignon Blanc without paying these sorts of prices?

Look at a map of the area and, just to the west of Sancerre, you’ll see Menetou-Salon; a little further west and you come to Quincy and Reuilly. All three of these villages also produce Sauvignon Blanc in much the same style as Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé, yet, as they are not nearly as widely known, prices – comparing wines of similar quality, of course – are far more reasonable.

Take Denis Jamain’s Les Pierres Plates Reuilly, for example. We opened a bottle recently and it went beautifully with some grilled sardines. It was absolutely textbook Loire Sauvignon with wonderful clean, fresh, gooseberry and green pepper flavours. Only a real expert could confidently say this wasn’t a high quality Sancerre. But, when you check the price, you’ll notice the difference: £11.50 from The Wine Society. And, in case you want to try value alternatives from the other two villages I mentioned, Wine Society also have Domaine Pellé’s Menetou-Salon (£11.95) and Majestic are offering Jean-Charles Borgnat’s Quincy (£11.49). Both recommended.

If you’re searching for reliable Loire Sauvignon even cheaper still, you may need to choose carefully, but I’d suggest you look even further west, over the border into Touraine, the region surrounding the town of Tours. At their best, wines labelled Sauvignon de Touraine can give you much of the same style and freshness as a modest Sancerre, but, production here is quite large and quality can be a bit variable, which is why I say you need to be selective. Above all, avoid Loire Sauvignon at bargain basement prices (which, these days, means below about £6) as cheap examples are often dominated by tart acidity with very little fruit – very unpleasant!

And finding bargains by seeking alternatives to famous names doesn’t stop on the Loire. Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Pouilly Fuissé and many others have their value alternatives. But that’s a Bristol Wine Blog for another day. In the meantime, just look around.