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.
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!”]