My Round: Richard Ehrlich

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc has an incredible reputation. But you'd be a mug to buy the new vintage
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The Independent Online

The gullibility of the human race never ceases to amaze me. For instance: the reading of newspaper horoscopes. For instance: the belief that vitamin C cures the common cold. For instance: the widespread willingness to pay as much as £15 for a bottle of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. And not only that, but to compete for this wine as if it were a rarity, to be chased down and coveted like a Fabergé egg.

The gullibility of the human race never ceases to amaze me. For instance: the reading of newspaper horoscopes. For instance: the belief that vitamin C cures the common cold. For instance: the widespread willingness to pay as much as £15 for a bottle of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. And not only that, but to compete for this wine as if it were a rarity, to be chased down and coveted like a Fabergé egg, and also make enquiries about their beautifully balanced Chardonnay 2000, £11.50. The facts: Cloudy Bay is only one among many notable Sauvignon Blancs produced in New Zealand; it is produced in very large quantities – its reputation for scarcity a product of expert management of image, supply and demand; and at £15, the price at which you may be "lucky" enough to find it, it is a full 25 per cent costlier than its dearest competitors.

I've said all this before. It needs saying again now because I recently tasted the 2001 vintage of Cloudy Bay, at the annual press tasting of New Zealand wines. In the past, I've always come away with the same conclusion: the Cloudy Bay was delicious, but not delicious enough to justify the price. This time, I had a different reaction. Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2001 was almost completely without character, a thin, dilute wine that – tasted blind – would almost certainly fail to impress the gullible folks who pant and scramble to track down a bottle.

Amazed by the feeble quality, I asked other people in the room if they had liked the wine. No one said yes. Someone suggested that perhaps the winery had changed the winemaking procedures, which accounted for so much of its quality: mixing in some Semillon, fermenting a small portion of the wine in French oak barrels, keeping the wine on its yeast lees after fermentation to boost texture and complexity. When I got their technical sheet, they didn't mention Semillon but all the other procedures seemed to be in place. Nor did they mention the quantities produced, even though I had specifically asked for these figures.

It is possible that there was a technical fault in the bottle of Cloudy Bay that was shown at that tasting. If there was, I am unfamiliar with the nature of the fault. I am more inclined to believe that LVMH, which owns Cloudy Bay, is simply milking its never-fail cash cow as energetically as it can. This wine was – if it's possible to put a figure on such matters – around a quarter as good as most vintages of Cloudy Bay. The price has not dropped. Nor has demand: even Tesco, for heaven's sake, sent out an urgent message saying it had secured further supplies (which it was selling for £15 a pop).

At some point, the scales of gullibility will fall from consumers' eyes. For now, knowing that you are not among the fools, here are some suggestions for keeping the clouds at bay. Any of the Sauvignon Blancs from Villa Maria is a better buy, especially their Reserve Wairau Valley Sauvignon Blanc (£10.99, Thresher, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up, Victoria Wines, Safeway, Tesco), which is loaded with the lush tropical fruits that make up one of the most appealing styles of Kiwi Sauvignon. Ditto for Isabel Estate Sauvignon Blanc (around £10, ring Morris & Verdin, 020 7921 5300, for stockists); Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc (£8.99, Unwins, Everywine.co.uk and independents) and the screw-capped Jackson Estate Sauvignon Blanc (£8.99, Oddbins, Tesco). The latter two are steelier and lighter in character. And the light but likeable Babich Sauvignon Blanc (£6.99, Budgens and elsewhere) beats all others for value.

All these are the 2001 vintage of that incredibly unimpressive Cloudy Bay. I'll drink any of them happily. And I won't have to pay over the odds to do so.

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