Diversity in Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

xThink Sauvignon Blanc; think New Zealand. It is fair to say that New Zealand has become synonymous with Sauvignon Blanc, or more specifically, Marlborough Sauvignon. This is the single most successful New World variety of the 21st Century: yes, Chilean Carmenère, Argentine Malbec and Australian Shiraz have all become benchmarks, but the Sauvignon from this one tiny area of one tiny country has become the global pinnacle for the variety, and one of the world’s most recognisable wine styles. I visited New Zealand in February 2006 and tasted over 100 Sauvignons. Whilst the pungent, green bean and tropical fruit style was still alive and kicking, there were also many producers playing with subtly different styles. Some producers are toning down the herbal qualities, making leaner, more Sancerre-like wines, and some are ageing their wines in oak. These Kiwi Sauvignons from Marlborough range from the full-on, impressively “typical” style of the Babich Family Reserve, to the more elegant, savoury style of Jane Hunter’s wine. But each is a fine example of one of the world’s great modern-day wine stories.

The wines

Babich (NZ) Family Reserve Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2005
Founded 85 years ago by Josip Babich, this estate remains in family hands today, with winemaking under the control of Joe Babich. Wine Spectator recently awarded this vintage of the Family Reserve Sauvignon 90 points as one of their top 100 wines. It is typically Marlborough, with pungent grassy notes and a hint of nettle, and really ripe tropical fruit notes suggesting pineapple and mango. On the palate this has quite a full texture, and just a rush of super-ripe, succulent tropical fruit, just restrained by a pear and lemon character that begins to grip on the mid palate. Acidity is very good, with a dry, grapefruity quality asserting. Lots of fireworks here, and definitely one for lovers of the full-on Marlborough style, and very good indeed. £7.95

Forrest Estate (NZ) ‘Stonewall’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2005
xOne of the nicest visits I had on my trip to New Zealand in February this year was to Forrest Estate, where John Forrest, a no-nonsense gentle giant of a man led me through a tour and tasting. This wine has a beautifully clean, rounded, slightly waxy tropical style of fruit on the nose, with pear and nicely aromatic herbal qualities. A little lychee note comes through. The palate is filled with rich passionfruit flavours and rolling, fleshy nectarine fruit with fine length and really nicely balanced acidity that is not too aggressive. Very good indeed/excellent. £9.91

Hunter’s (NZ) Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2005
Jane Hunter OBE is New Zealand’s most famous, and most awarded, women winemaker. She is viticulturist, winemaker and all-round supremo of Hunter’s Wines, her own small- to medium-sized company in the picturesque Wairau Valley. This Gold medal winning 2005 Sauvignon has a beautifully poised nose, with a little crystallised pineapple fruit and a punchy, mouth-watering passionfruit and gooseberry character. On the palate this is intense and ripe, with plenty of crisp, lemon-zest acidity and fruit giving a really racy, quality. There’s plenty of ripeness, with melon and hints of more tropical character, but this stays very pure and crisp, in a food-friendly style. Very good indeed/excellent. £10.99