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Cloudy Bay - A legend of our times
© by Sue Courtney
There is no doubt that Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc is one of the most famous wines ever to come out of New Zealand.

Cloudy Bay, the wine, was named for Cloudy Bay, a prominent geographic feature of the Marlborough region. It is the first large bay heading south down the East Coast of New Zealand's South Island. If you approach Marlborough by air you are likely to fly over the Bay with, especially in the early morning, the low clouds wisping above the bay and amongst the hills. It makes one wonder if this was the inspiration behind the name given by explorer Captain Cook, when he sailed there in 1770.

David Hohnen of Western Australia's Cape Mentelle established Cloudy Bay the wine, in 1985. He had been so inspired by the scintillating flavours of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that some touring Kiwi wine makers visiting his W.A. winery gave him to taste, he scrapped his plans to buy more vineyards in his homeland in favour of 'newly discovered' Marlborough.

The 1985 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc was made from Marlborough grapes transported to the Corbans Winery in Auckland. 1986 saw contract grown Sauvignon Blanc vinted by the now 'also legendary' Kevin Judd at the brand new Cloudy Bay winery at Jackson's Road in Marlborough's Wairau Valley. This particular wine - a wine that wooed the world with its unique flavour and freshness - a wine that greatly contributed to the international reputation of the quality of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, is still drinking well today. It is a great testimony to the label.

Cloudy Bay labelThe grey and white label of the Cloudy Bay wine, unchanged from the first vintage in 1985, has the distinct outline of the Richmond Ranges as seen looking north-west from the winery towards the towering feature of Mt Riley. At 1311 metres above sea level Mt Riley is the highest peak of these ranges, which protect the region's vineyards from the prevailing westerly winds coming off the Tasman Sea.

Long hot days in the summer during the ripening season combine with cool night temperatures and unpredictable but rare rainfalls, heartily welcomed in the recent drought conditions of the last half-dozen summers, to produce perfect conditions for growing Sauvignon Blanc grapes.

I was recently invited to partake in a vertical tasting of this legendary wine, with consecutive vintages from the current 2000 back to 1996 with a 1989 thrown in for fun.

A line-up of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon BlancCloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2000: Lemony scents at first but going back to the glass later quite a myriad of delicious things including some floral aromas and tropical fruits. Ripe passionfruit flavours with a lovely spectrum of summer herbs and some gooseberry and stone fruits appearing. Soft but with lifted bright acidity. Seems quite dry on the finish. Very long and mouthfilling. Excellent, with years of life ahead of it. 18.5

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 1999: Attractive, subtle grassy Sauvignon scents developing some toasty richness on the nose. Full, long, fairly broad and almost creamy in the palate with sweet lemons, limes, stone fruits and nectarine flavours lingering but still that unmistakable hallmark Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc pungency. Drinking very well today and my favourite wine of this tasting. 19

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 1998: There is still some good acidity in this wine with its full, rich lemon scents. This was such a hot vintage I have to wonder if there is added acid. It has become quite fat and full on the palate with pungent lemons and herbs and a hint of vanilla custard.. Rounded texture with lingering herb flavours enhanced by lemon acidity. 18

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 1997: Apple, lime and herb aromas. Quite fat and a touch oily and starting to exhibit developed Sauvignon Blanc characters of pea along with a note of capsicum. Good acidity and a broad finish but I think the wine has lost its bright freshness. 18.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 1996: I like the rich aromas of lemon and toast with a hint of butterscotch. In the palate it is fat and rich but still bright, fresh and lively. Developing some of that classic 'canned' pea character complexity on the finish along with some stone fruit richness. Showing very well today. 18.5

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 1989: This is a medium gold colour, amazingly youthful for a wine that is 12 years old. There is toasty lemon, buttered herbs and a developed pungency in the aroma. Rich and full in the palate with none of the canned pea character that was starting to emerge in the 1996, but sweet citrus, stone and tropical fruit. It has a toasty finish with a hint of grassiness and still a good dollop of acidity. This wine is just so amazing for its age. My second favourite wine of the tasting and I give it an 18.5.

Anyone who says Sauvignon Blanc doesn't age, hasn't tasted a Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from a great vintage such as 1989 or 1996. Although they do not say it in their promotional material, the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc has long been rumoured to contain a small percentage of Semillon. Along with a tiny percentage of barrel fermented wine, perhaps this is the secret to its aging ability.

Cloudy Bay wine is distributed to about thirty countries throughout the world. Find out more from the Cloudy Bay website.

27th February, 2001

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