Crisp award-winning NZ white... is not the one sold to public

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The Independent Online

It is New Zealand's most popular white wine, a crisp Sauvignon Blanc that is exported to a dozen countries, including Britain.

The wine has won numerous accolades for its Marlborough-based makers, Wither Hills. Butthe 2006 vintage has been stripped of its medals, and its chief winemaker Brent Marris forced to resign as head judge of the country's most prestigious awards.

His departure was prompt- ed by an inquiry which established that the Wither Hillls Sauvignon Blanc entered in competitions was different from the one being sold to the public.

Mr Marris blames an innocent technical error, and has hit back at rival winemakers who he claims are jealous of his success. But their murmurings prompted Michael Cooper of Cuisine magazine to blind-test the wine that won its gold awards this year against one bought from the supermarket. He concluded that they were "two different wines" - a verdict supported by tests in a government laboratory that found different levels of sugar, alcohol and acidity.

Mr Marris defended his integrity, explaining that bottles from an early batch - made separately, to "best represent" the vintage to come - had mistakenly been sent for judging. The industry was not impressed. Fears remain that the scandal may affect the reputation of an industry worth NZ$1bn (£350m) a year. Sauvignon Blanc is New Zealand's flagship wine and Wither Hills its best-seller, with more than a million bottles produced annually.