The wine buff: The home of Cloudy Bay has a much broader spectrum of wines than it's known for
When you visit New Zealand, you get a sense of why Sauvignon Blanc from this country is so unique. It is unspoilt, there is something very crystalline and pure about the countryside, and the bright sun beams down, occasionally shaded by a few passing fluffy clouds. All of these factors, as well as a focus on sustainability, contribute to the distinctive and vibrant taste of the grape as it is grown here.
But one of the things that surprised me when I was there earlier this year was the wide range of styles this grape produces. Sauvignon Blanc accounts for 72pc of the grapes grown in the country, and although it is grown in just about every region, Marlborough is the powerhouse.
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This is the home of Cloudy Bay, the wine that set pulses racing when it first hit the international market over 30 years ago, and its exuberant flavour has become signature grape shorthand. It is only when you have an opportunity to taste so many different wines and see what is happening in the region that you get a sense of how much broader the spectrum really is.
The winemaker behind Cloudy Bay, Kevin Judd, left in 2008 to set up his own winery, and worked his magic once again. His Greywacke Wild Sauvignon is a completely different style of wine. It has minimum intervention and is fermented in oak barrels using wild yeast, so what you get is a more complex, savoury character rather than the green, herbaceous flavours which he had popularised.
But it's not just a case of herbaceous or barrel-fermented, there are other flavour profiles associated with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and a recent study which sought to identify consumer preferences and compare them with those of wine writers also included wines with tropical and citrus aromas.
In terms of aroma, citrus was the preferred choice among both groups, but when it came to taste, consumers opted for the tropical style, while the wine writers stuck with their initial citrus choice.
There are, of course, no right or wrong styles, and it is interesting to taste the regional variations. Marlborough has two main valleys - Awatere and Wairau - and if you're flying in on a clear day, you can see them distinctly.
When I was there, I visited the Whitehaven vineyard in the northern part of the Wairau Valley, which is the warmer region, and Sam Smail, the winemaker, told me that as well as a citrus core, they look for raspberry, gooseberry and jalapeño flavours, with a little bit of passion fruit, when they're making their wine.
More recently, I had a chance to meet Fiona Turner, the winemaker who owns Tinpot wineries with her husband, Hamish. Their vineyards are out by the coast in the Blind River region of the Wairau Valley, where it is cooler, dryer and horrendously windy from September to February. This, she says, brings a more mineral quality to her wines; the fruit is more restrained than tropical, and the wines are bone dry.
James Nicholson, one of the country's top wine merchants, has just launched a Wine Academy. The JN Academy section on the website has some great information, with an introduction to grapes and how to taste wine, plus an A-Z of wine terms. Sign up for their newsletter to get more advice and tips, details of new wines to the JN Wine range, special offers and announcements on upcoming events. See jnwine.com
Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc 2019
€14.95, reduced from €17.95, 13pc, from O'Briens and obrienswine.ie
A classic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with lifted aromas of gooseberry, melon and greengage, and a refreshing crisp palate that adds a clean mineral and herbal note.
Tinpot Hut Sauvignon Blanc 2018
€21.99, 13pc, from Mortons, Baggot Street Wines, Blackrock Cellar, Clontarf Wines, Mitchell & Son, Martins, all Dublin
A blend of Sauvignon Blanc grapes from four coastal vineyards, bringing fresh citrus flavours of grapefruit, lemongrass, a hint of passion fruit and crushed fresh thyme, and the minerality of wet stones.
Greywacke Wild Ferment Sauvignon Blanc 2016
€34.99, 14pc, from O'Briens
With a distinct flinty note, this wild-yeast, barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc is beautifully precise and textural with flavours of apple, lime and a touch of fennel.