FOOD & DRINK / Grapevine: Kathryn McWhirter on fine New Zealand Sauvignons

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The Independent Culture
A FEW vintages ago, New Zealand vineyard owner John Buck slipped a bottle of his Te Mata Sauvignon Blanc into a blind tasting of Sancerre, held in the Loire hilltop town of Sancerre itself and judged by a band of distinguished Sancerre growers. His wine came first. Same grape variety, similar cool climate - the Frenchmen did not lose too much face.

Both the Loire and New Zealand have enormous potential for quality. But New Zealand Sauvignons as a whole show a far higher standard of grape growing and winemaking than their European cousins, and are far more consistently delicious. All 15 I tasted were nice, some just a bit feeble, highish in acidity and grassy flavoured. Some are brilliant.

My top marks among the ones already here go to the wonderfully intense, gooseberry and tropical fruity *****1993 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. This is always a winner and most wine merchants' allocation is promised before the boat docks. I tracked down small hoards remaining in Cellar 5 (pounds 8.99) and Dionysus of Wandsworth (pounds 9.99). (Otherwise, phone the importer on 071-480 6312 for stockists). But a few others have overcome the problems of 1993. Try *****1993 Palliser Estate Sauvignon Blanc (pounds 8.49 E H Booth, pounds 8.65 The Hermitage of London N10, pounds 8.95 Pont de la Tour of London SE1, pounds 8.99 Connolly's of Birmingham, pounds 9.85 Justerini & Brooks of London SW1 and Edinburgh), a lovely, rich, ripe, well-balanced wine with more than a hint of passion fruit; or *****1993 Jackson Estate Sauvignon Blanc (pounds 6.40 Churchill Vintners of Birmingham, pounds 7.20 Adnams of Southwold, pounds 7.40 Christopher Piper of Ottery St Mary, Devon, pounds 7.45 Justerini & Brooks of London SW1 and Edinburgh, pounds 7.52 The Celtic Vintner of Swansea, pounds 7.95 Davisons and Oddbins, pounds 7.99 selected Tesco, S H Jones of Oxford and Phillip Eyres of Amersham, by the case), tangy, gooseberry-flavoured and floral. My other favourites are the light but ripe gooseberry and tropical fruity ***1993 Allan Scott Sauvignon Blanc (pounds 8.25 Lay & Wheeler), very ripe, asparagus and gooseberry-scented, ***1993 Collards Rothesay Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc (pounds 6.75 Bibendum of London NW1 by the case only) and the crisply gooseberry-fruity **1993 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc (pounds 5.49 Waitrose, pounds 5.95 Thresher, Bottoms Up and Wine Rack - make sure you get the 1993).

Sauvignon Blanc, whether from New Zealand or the Loire, is a wine to drink young, within its first two years. Many 1992s are just a bit past it. The best can survive longer, however. John Buck's elegant ****1992 Te Mata Castle Hill Sauvignon Blanc (pounds 6.85 Anthony Byrne of Ramsey, pounds 7.99 Thresher, Wine Rack and Bottoms Up) has lost none of its piercing gooseberry fruit. Other good ones include the zingy, aromatic, exotic fruit and asparagus ***1992 Coopers Creek Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (pounds 6.39 Victoria Wine, pounds 6.95

Anthony Byrne of Ramsey, pounds 6.99 Premier Wine Warehouse of SW6, pounds 7.20 Cairns & Hickey of Leeds, pounds 7.50 The Hermitage of N10, pounds 7.75 Quellyn Roberts of Chester); crisp, ripe and herby, ***1992 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc (pounds 4.99 Fullers, selected Tesco, Villeneuve Wines of Peebles and Peter Green of Edinburgh, pounds 5.50 Cairns & Hickey of Leeds, pounds 5.99 Quellyn Roberts of Chester); and two gooseberry and tropical fruity examples, ***1992 Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc (pounds 6.99 E H Booth, pounds 7.49 selected Safeway) and ***1992 Ngatarawa Sauvignon Blanc (pounds 7.60 Adnams of Southwold).

For excellent value on a tighter budget, **1992 Montana Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough is a simpler wine but with good gooseberry flavour and hints of tropical fruit and asparagus (pounds 4.65 Churchill Vintners of Birmingham, pounds 4.95 Sainsbury's, pounds 4.99 Victoria Wine, Fullers, E H Booth, Davisons, Oddbins, Thresher, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up, Tesco, Safeway, Cellar 5, Villeneuve Wines of Peebles and William Low); and **1992 Cooks Gisborne Sauvignon Blanc, faintly off-dry, has ripe gooseberry flavour with a hint of apple (pounds 4.75 Peter Green of Edinburgh, pounds 4.99 Cellar 5, Bottoms Up, Thresher, Wine Rack, Spar and The Wine Treasury of London SW6, pounds 5.15 Budgen, pounds 5.35 Davisons).

Probably the cheapest way to sample good, straightforward gooseberry-flavoured New Zealand Sauvignon is from the Stowells Gisborne Sauvignon Blanc three-litre bag-in-box (pounds 14.75 Safeway, pounds 14.95 selected Sainsbury's, pounds 14.99 Fullers and selected Tesco, pounds 16.29 Thresher, Wine Rack and Bottoms Up, pounds 16.75 Victoria Wine).

It's rare to find Sauvignon flavour blending successfully with the taste of oak. An exception is ****1991 Corban's Fume Blanc Private Bin (pounds 6.49 Mill Hill Wines, pounds 6.99 Dionysus of Wandsworth) which is full, tangy and intensely gooseberry-flavoured, gently rounded off by smoky oak. Most other 1991s are already past it, but my other 1991 find was ***1991 Cooks Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Winemaker's Reserve (pounds 6.49 The Wine Treasury of Fulham, pounds 6.49 Osborne Wines of Chiswick, by the case only, pounds 6.50 Dionysus of Wandsworth, pounds 6.75 Grape and Grain of Chesham, Bucks), rich and tropical fruity with a hint of green pea.

*****superb, ****complex and exciting, ***excellent, **very good