Green chilies in your wine?
Cloudy Bay Villa Maria
Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand, especially its Marlborough region, have been getting a lot of attention from wine lovers in recent years because their unique character boldly celebrates a style that producers of wines from this grape in most other parts of the world consciously seek to avoid: Intense "green," "herbaceous" flavors that remind some tasters of green chile peppers and others of, well, the cat-litter box.

Perhaps the primary beneficiary of this trend is Cloudy Bay, the first New Zealand winery to win international publicity for its Sauvignon Blanc, and that as a result has seen demand turn it into a hard-to-find item whose price tag has increased at my local retailer from around $14 for the 1995 vintage to $20 with the newly arrived 1999.

Still, many wine lovers will pay for it, and gladly, too, particularly since the 1999 vintage saw a general return to that wacky Marlborough style after an exceptionally warm 1998 that saw most wineries produced fatter, fruitier Sauvignons without the usual "greenness."

Here's my report on the 1999 Cloudy Bay, and on a widely available competitor that offers some of the same character for a significantly lower price:

Cloudy Bay 1999 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($19.99)
Pale brass color, with a clean and appealing aroma of fresh jalapeñoes. Its full flavor is crisp and fresh, juicy white-fruit flavors and delicious green chile peppers without the heat. U.S. importer: Cliquot Inc., NYC. (June 10, 1999)

(For more on Cloudy Bay, see my July 1999 tasting notes on 1998 and 1997 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc and another lower-priced competitor.)

Villa Maria 1999 Private Bin Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($11.99)
Light greenish-gold in color, its aromas offer strong green chilies and an aromatic edge that suggests alcohol or new oak. Ripe and tart, herbaceous flavors follow this nose; it's very good but in a "blind" side-by-side tasting shows neither the balance nor the intensity of the Cloudy Bay. U.S. importer: Vineyard Brands Inc., Birmingham, Ala. (June 10, 1999)

FOOD MATCH: Both wines went very well with a dinner created specifically to address their characteristic flavors: Veal chops pan-grilled with a lightly spicy velouté sauce flavored with jalapeño and chipotle peppers, and rice steamed with lemon and ginger.

Clock These wines were featured in The 30 Second Wine Advisor, my free weekly E-mail bulletin of quick wine tips, advice and tasting notes. Click here to join the E-mail list!

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All my wine-tasting reports are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores.

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