Cloudy Bay Sauvignon 2021 releases

A tasting with Jim White of Cloudy Bay, an Australian born and trained winemaker and viticulturist who worked for Cape Mentelle among others, but  made the move to New Zealand in 2010. Jim is now Technical Director, in overall control of viticulture and winemaking, with Nikolai St George as head of the winemaking team. Jim talked of his pleasure and slight disbelief that he is now in charge of a label he literally grow up with, a bottle regularly in his parent’s fridge at home.

Jim explained that part of his remit over years has been acquiring vineyards, with a new vineyard added just the day before this tasting. But that is part of many changes there have been in less than 40 years since the first vintage. “We are definitely trying to move our fruit spectrum away from the pyrozene, bell pepper spectrum, with leaf removal to allow more sunlight and harvesting fruit a little later and riper.” Another change for the Te Koko barrel-fermented Sauvignon, is on oak: “We’ve also been playing with more large format oak, and that’s definitely a direction we are moving in for Te Koko and for Chardonnay. The 6,000-litre casks seem to be a perfect size for us.”

Of the 2021 he notes the “very rocky start” in Spring, which he suspects is becoming the norm. There were a number of frost events, rain and low temperatures, including one frost in early October that damaged the young buds and drove down yields. “Sauvignon is normally reliable, but there just weren’t many berries on the bunches. We were down around 30% on the average.” He also notes that the season picked up after Christmas, and harvest was in the last two weeks of March – two weeks earlier than when he arrived in 2010, and again something of a trend.

In this tasting I also received samples of some library vintages, including the 2017 Sauvignon Blanc. Jim joked that this was the vintage that turned his hair grey. An unsual weather pattern with torrential rain events at harvest time caused fruit skins to split, and a rush to harvest with the forecast of more tropical rain storms to come.

Most of the fruit for the Sauvignon Blanc and Te Koko bottlings comes from the stony, free-draining soils of the Wairau Valley, the rest from Awatere and more southern vineyards. Another subject raised was a looming shortfall in supply of New Zealand wines, with a series of short vintages and the impact of Covid on production, plus challenges with logistics in terms of international shipping. As Jim says “I think a lot of my colleagues are going to have to start to allocate just as we’ve had to do in the past.” Will there be enough New Zealand Sauvignon to go around?

A final word was on ageing. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is rarely viewed as a wine to be aged, and the truth is that those very pyrozene-heavy, ‘cat’s pee’ examples can be rather pea-poddy and stringy as they age. However Jim believes Cloudy Bay does have the capacity to age, and to do so in a way broadly similar to Hunter Valley Semillons, developing a little toast and honey. The 2017 tasted here certainly proved that point, but so too did a tasting of the 2016 and 2006 that I had just a few months ago.

The Wines

(2021) A year when poor weather during the early part of the season resulted in reduced crops, but a fine and warm mid- and late season meant a smaller yeild of very high quality fruit from these Wairau River vineyards. Made primarily in stainless steel, approximately 4% was fermented at warmer temperatures in old French oak barriques and large format oak vats. Quite widely available. A particularly fruity passion fruit and gooseberry opening here, and while there is some elderflower pungency, it sits just behind the punchy fruit. In the mouth there's plenty of fruit sweentess and irresistable nectarine juiciness. It feels like a particularly concentrated vintage of the Sauvignon Blanc, the cool salty and lemony acidity providing good support and thrust. Could well be an example that ages rather well.
(2021) From older vineyards and another season where yileds were reduced by cool spring weather. The juice was racked directly to French oak barrels (8% new) and large wooden casks for fermentation initiated by indigenous yeasts. The wine matured in barrel, on fine lees, for 11 months, before transferring to less oxidative vessels to finish ageing: stainless steel, concrete tanks and large format casks. Creamy, lightly nutty, but definitely Marlborough still,  with some tropical fruit character, lots of citrus and stone fruits, and really lovely, creamy- to almost minty acid quality that fills the mouth along with the sweet, buttery fruit into the finish. Intense and well-balanced.
(2021) From a much more bountiful crop than 2021, where Cloudy Bay green harvested to reduce yields, this made to a similar recipe as the 2021, though with a touch less oak used for fermentation (around 3%). I've had a few chances to taste bottle-aged Cloudy Bay before and it is often impressive, as is this: it doesn't have the succulence and density of the 2021, but has such a lovely, firm lime peel edge, touches of butter and honey developing, and lots of sweet fruit on the mid-palate. It finishes with softer acidity than the 2021 now, but has definition and plenty of appeal. Not available in UK retail at time of review.
(2021) From one of the driest vintages on record in Marlborough, again the recipe is similar to the 2019 with spontaneous fermentation in French oak barrels (8% new), though larger oak vats where not used. It spent 15 months in barrel on fine lees. Gorgeous nose, very white Bordeaux-like, with creamy almond and cashew over pristine white fruits. Again I get a touch of mint or mint humbug on this, but it is now all about that and the fruit, with no real sign of any pyrozene green characters. In the mouth a little toasty though also slightly more vegetal quality is very pleasant among the fresh citrus acidity and little suggestion of exotic fruit.

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