Last Friday NZ Wine Online hosted a Sauvignon Blanc Master Class at the Royal Automobile Club in Sydney. I always enjoy evenings when the winemakers are on hand to discuss the wine, so I listened with great interest to winemakers John Hancock from Trinity Hill of the North Island’s Hawkes Bay region and Glenn Thomas from Tupari Wines, which is situated in the Awatere Valley in Marlborough in the north of the South Island.

Of the nine wines we tasted that evening most were from the Marlborough region. Understandable, given that Marlborough is the one region of the world that seems to have taken the noble grape of the Loire and Bordeaux and made it its own. In her book Educating Peter, The Wall Street Journal’s wine writer Lettie Teague argues that Marlborough sauvignon blanc and in particular the iconic Cloudy Bay expression of the style “actually changed the way people thought about Sauvignon Blanc and the way winemakers approached the grape too…From California to South Africa, even in the Loire Valley, the home of Sauvignon Blanc, I’ve seen wine lists that feature ‘New Zealand-style’ Sancerres.”

Interestingly, the Hawkes Bay offering, the Trinity Hill Hawkes Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2010, is made more in the understated or restrained style of Sancerre, with citrus, melon and stone fruit flavours accented with Sancerre-like mineral notes. The wine spent extended time on lees to give it more body or texture, and the warmer climate of the Hawkes Bay region creates a wine that is slighly lower in both acidity and alcohol than its typical Marlborough peers.

Both Hancock and Thomas talked about the innovations taking place in New Zealand sauvignon blanc. While many of the wines displayed the familiar characteristics of bright fruity aromatics with zesty citrus and tropical fruit flavours complemented by a vibrant acidity, some of the wines were showing a more evolved mid-palate and a longer finish.

 

The Tupari Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009, for example, is a good example of how winemakers are becoming interested in creating sauvignon blancs that express the nuances of their terroir. The fruit is grown in two discreet areas of the Tupari vineyard, yielding grapes with their own distinct character. Fruit from the gently sloping north facing block produces intense passionfruit flavours whereas fruit grown on the gravellt flat area gives the wine its stone fruit and mineral notes.

This wine was also left on lees for an extended period of six months and stirred weekly to enrich the creamy palate texture. The two batches from the different plots were blended prior to bottling. Thomas thought a year of bottle age had enhanced the wine’s flavours. A very enjoyable drop!

Yes, the story of New Zealand sauvignon blanc is becoming more complicated, fun and interesting! Tomorrow a look at a few more interesting wines tasted at the Master Class.