It Must Be Refreshing!

In a talk at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone a few months back, noted British wine writer, Jancis Robinson MW, explained her top criteria for any wine she encounters: “It must be refreshing!”

Given that simple yet demanding yardstick, I think Robinson would have found a great deal to like about almost all the wines presented at a recent tasting of New Zealand sauvignon blanc in San Francisco. Arranged in celebration of Sauvignon Blanc Day 2015 by David Strada, marketing manager in the United States for New Zealand Winegrowers, the April 24 tasting spotlighted a number of wines that excel both in the glass and at the cash register. Following the informal walk-around tasting, attendees enjoyed a four-course meal courtesy of Farallon, the popular San Francisco restaurant, which highlighted even further the wines’ versatility and complexity.

These sauvignon blancs hailed almost entirely from the South Island appellation of Marlborough, with a couple of wines from the Hawke’s Bay and Martinborough regions on the North Island. While all unique, they shared many typical descriptors: floral, citrus, mineral, herbal, grassy, creamy. A few leaned towards tropical when it came to fruit flavors, but lemons and limes and grapefruit predominated. And, with little to no oak treatment on most of the wines, textures were crisp and precise. The quality of the wines, overall, was high, and the affordable pricing made them only more attractive.

Please take a look at the wines, along with some of my immediate impressions. Moving quickly at tastings like this I find I can’t, and don’t really want to, compose formal, structured tasting notes. Sometimes simpler is better. The last thing I want to do is create more questions than answers. What’s a gooseberry? Exactly. I don’t know either. What I want you to remember are images, and maybe a few key words. If you can’t recall the names of the wines, you can always show your local wine monger the pictures below. I encourage you to start looking for these wines, which are just the right thing as the season begins to warm. You, and your budget, can thank me later.

Glasses up. Get to work, writers!

Glasses up. Get to work, writers!

Seresin: Light in the mouth, relatively simple, moderate acid. $25 Sileni: Fresh flowers. Grapefruit. Refreshing acid, very good fruit. $14 The Silent

Seresin: Light in the mouth, relatively simple, moderate acid. $25
Sileni “The Straits”: Fresh flowers. Grapefruit. Refreshing acid, complex flavors, long finish. $14 “The Straits” was also an ideal accompaniment to a baby beet salad (w/ toasted almonds, red beet relish, and sherry vinaigrette) at lunch. One of the afternoon’s more impressive values.

Clos Henri: medium-plus body, earth on finish, good complexity. $24 Jackson Estate: Complex nose, bright fruit, with lemon/lime on palate. Medium acid. $17 Momo: Earthy nose, hints of musk, but with a perfumed finish. $12

Clos Henri: medium-plus body, earthy on finish, good complexity. $24
Jackson Estate: Complex nose, floral notes, bright fruit, with lemon/lime on palate. Medium acid. $17
Momo: Earthy nose, hints of musk, but with a perfumed finish. $12

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Spy Valley Envoy: Aromas of flowers and cream, a dusty minerality on the palate. Refreshing acid; complex. $22
Tiki: Classic profile, with loads of tart citrus and green apple flavors. Bracing acidity. $15
Trinity Hill: Citrus and tropical notes on nose and palate, excellent finish. $15

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Sorry for the blurry photo. The staffer responsible has been put on unpaid administrative leave. It won’t happen again.
Brancott Estate “Flight Song”: This brought out my Irish — “the green, green grass of home!” On the simpler side, with medium acid and a medium finish. If a friend says she likes the grassier NZ suav blancs, this is your go-to. $12
Brancott Estate: Toasty biscuit on nose; smooth mouthfeel, with tart, citrusy flavors. Medium acid, long finish. $9

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Craggy Range Te Muna Road: Most complex nose and palate of the entire lot; great structure, with fruit, acids, alcohol, and texture all in balance. Long finish. $16 (!) Paired nicely with the main dish of spring pea risotto, grilled Louisiana prawns, pea shoots, with aged balsamic. A versatile, delicious wine that plays way above its price point.

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Giesen: Bracing, zippy, classic profile, with plenty of mouthwatering acid. Great finish. $10
Huia: Savory notes, flinty, sleek mouthfeel, earthy on the finish. $18 (An hour later, opened quite a bit, adding hints of talc, shellfish, minerality).

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Sileni Cellar Selection: A fascinating nose, very clean and polished, with complex fruit flavors, racy finish. $11

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Wither Hills: Citrusy, green apples, hints of tropical fruit, creamy mouthfeel, great structure, long finish. $13 (!)

Three wines not pictured here are Hunky Dory, a tasty, but simple quaffer, $15; Nautilus, citrus flavors with a creamy mouthfeel, $17; and, Matua, simple, soft on the palate, medium acid, short finish, $10.

Also in the line-up this day were six sauvignon blancs from California. Placed at the end of the rotation, they were a jarring change in almost every way from the 20 wines that had preceded them. For me, personally, the clashing profiles cast the American wines, for the most part, in an inferior light. While one or two California labels had the bright acid and steely feel of the NZ wines, the rest came across as a bit flabby and not that interesting. The California wines also tended to carry higher price tags, which only strengthened the argument that, in the end, sauvignon blanc from New Zealand is an unbeatable value.

[Note: these wines are all under screw cap. As you can see, that is no longer, and hasn’t been for some time, an indication of quality. In the immortal words of Count Rugen, “Stop saying that!”]

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