New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon Blanc is certainly not the only wine grape that grows successfully in New Zealand. I have enjoyed wonderful Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the beautiful nation that the Maori called "Land of the Long White Cloud," and have even sampled such relative oddities from Kiwi country as Pinotage and Gamay.
But say "New Zealand" to most wine lovers, and "Sauvignon Blanc" comes back as naturally as an "enter password" challenge.
Kiwi wine makers have made Sauvignon Blanc their own in modern times, taking what was initially a climate challenge - the herbal, vegetative character that Sauvignon shows when it grows under cool, cloudy conditions - and turning it into a national trademark, gently nurturing these qualities into ripe, in-your-face wines that glory in bright green-chile-pepper, herbal and gooseberry aromas and flavors built on snappy limey acidity.
First the Cloudy Bay winery gained international attention for its Sauvignon Blanc, which remains highly sought-after though increasingly pricey. But now dozens, even scores of New Zealand producers offer their Sauvignon Blanc around the world, and most of them remain attractively priced at $10 to $15, at least mid-range if not actually cheap.
The 2002 Sauvignon Blancs are now starting to show up in numbers in the Northern Hemisphere, and I have several lined up for tasting. Following is my report on two good, fairly priced examples, one from the familiar Marlborough region and the other from Hawkes Bay, a region of growing interest on the Pacific (east) side of the North Island.
WEB LINK: My friend Sue Courtney, who publishes the leading New Zealand wine-consumer Website, Wine of the Week, has an extended tasting report on a range of 2002 New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs at
Sue also contributes articles about New Zealand wine to WineLoversPage.com. You'll find her most recent report, "A Pinot Noir Master Class," online at
Sacred Hill 2002 Whitecliff Estate Hawkes Bay Sauvignon Blanc ($11.39)
This brass-color wine is clear and rather pale, with light, slightly floral aromas that seem a bit shy at first; but show pleasant white fruit with a bit of swirling and sniffing. It's much more forward in the flavor department, citric and bright, snappy lime and tart, cleansing acidity in perfect balance. U.S. importer: Halby Marketing Inc., Sonoma, Calif. (Feb. 2, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Fine with fresh asparagus with bits of ham in a light saffron cheese sauce over farfalle pasta.
VALUE: Fine value at less than half the asking price of New Zealand's sought-after Cloudy Bay.
WHEN TO DRINK: I like Sauvignon Blanc best in its first year after release, but many wine enthusiasts swear by the complexity that develops with a few years' cellar time.
WEB LINK: I was unable to find a Website for the winery or the importer.
Giesen 2002 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($10.99)
Light straw color with a glint of gold, this wine is exceptionally aromatic. Ripe peaches come up first, followed by juicy lemon-lime and a whiff of the "green chile pepper" scent that's often found in Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Ripe and full, juicy fruit flavors are so intense that the wine almost seems sweet; but a snappy citric tang brings it into balance, clean and lingering. U.S. importer: Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., NYC. (Feb. 2, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: The wine's "in-your-face" flavors make it a challenging food match, but asparagus - here in a farfalle pasta dish with ham and a saffron-tinted cheese sauce - stands up to the herbaceous chile-pepper flavors in the wine.
VALUE: A price tag in the $10 range puts this one on the bargain side of the median for Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
WHEN TO DRINK: I recommend drinking it this year, while the fruit remains full and bright, but it could develop more elegance and complexity if properly cellared for a year or two.
WEB LINK: You'll find the winery Website at
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Wine Tasting 101: Chianti
Learn to taste wine analytically in a friendly, supportive environment where there are no wrong answers. This month we study Chianti. Four "benchmark" wines are offered, including Gabbiano 2000 Chianti Classico (pictured) and Chiantis from Cecchi, Ruffino and Castello d'Albola.
For details about how to participate in this free, interactive wine-education project, click to Wine Tasting 101,
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is currently distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Dessert wine: How cold? (Jan. 31)
A friendly bet penalized (Jan. 29)
Muscat Ramble (Jan. 27)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Last week's Wine Advisor Foodletter: Cheese crackers (Jan. 30)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, Feb. 3, 2003