It was the early 1990s, and I was barely off the plane when Terry Dunleavy, the then New Zealand head wine honcho, accosted me. "Should we stick to sauvignon or diversify?" Too jetlagged to think, I muttered something inane along the lines of if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it. Now, 25 years on, sauvignon blanc remains New Zealand's bread and butter at more than 20,000 hectares planted – but 14,000 hectares of pinot noir, chardonnay, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and aromatic white grapes testify to a much tastier wedge of jam in the sandwich. Allied to an impressive consistency of quality, it's not surprising that New Zealand, although relatively small, sells more wine at over £7 a bottle than any other country except France.
At its 35th annual New Zealand tasting in London, one of the more recent sauvignon blanc styles on show was its oaked version, which seems to be achieving mixed success. Apart from a few overoaked wines, the most successful examples I tasted were a creamy-textured Clos Marguerite Sauvignon Blanc 2015, £18.50, Swig, and a subtle oak-polished, nutty Graves-style 2013 Churton Best End Sauvignon Blanc 2013, £21.95, Tanners. In the pungently zingy style, I enjoyed a grapefruit zesty fresh 2015 Yealands Estate Sauvignon Blanc £11.95, Great Western Wine, and intense, tongue-tingling 2015 Brancott Estate Awatere Valley Terroir Series Sauvignon Blanc, £13.49, multibuy £11.99, Majestic.
Syrah is rightly so called not just to distinguish it from Australia's shiraz, but because the Hawke's Bay style comes with the spice and pepper beloved of Northern Rhône devotees, and there were excellent examples in the richly dark-fruited and subtly oaked 2013 Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Syrah, £17.50, The Wine Society, and perfumed, spicy and concentrated 2013 Elephant Hill Syrah, Field & Fawcett.
It was once thought that pinot noir in New Zealand (of which more soon) was only good for sparkling wine, and although it's been all change on that score, pinot noir still works beautifully in such excellent fizzes as the rich and toasty 2009 Huia Brut, £20.99, Sustainable Wines, Bibendum, and the tangy, delicately biscuity Cloudy Bay Pelorus, £20, Morrisons.
- More about:
- New Zealand
- Clos Marguerite Sauvignon Blanc
- Yealands Estate Sauvignon Blanc
- Brancott Estate Awatere Valley
- Terry Dunleavy
- Cloudy Bay Pelorus
- The Wine Society
- Hawke's Bay
- Huia Brut
- Northern Rhône