Welcome to the Top 10 Tasting of Sauvignon Blanc – probably the most important varietal in the country – certainly in terms of wine production, making up 72% of New Zealand’s output. With wine exports now worth $2.03 billion, Sauvignon Blanc also now makes up the lion’s share of that, as more plantings of the grape dominate the vineyard landscape to satisfy the world’s thirst for it.
The success is down to a unique style. Sauvignon Blanc – from Marlborough in particular – doesn’t taste the same as it does – or, at least, used to – in the rest of the world. That identifiable style has led to a desire for “New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc” across the globe – whether it comes from the Marlborough, or not. I don’t think that Joe Public who drinks one of our exported bottles makes that much distinction between one of our wine-producing regions or another. When they drink a “New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc” what they probably expect is that distinctive blast of grassy, fresh green herbal that Marlborough delivers.
Of course, other wine producing countries of the world aren’t just sitting back and letting New Zealand dominate the market. When recent vintages had setbacks in volume, it was noted that overseas stockists turned to wines from our rivals. Chile and South Africa are making some cracking wines, and are snapping at NZ’s heels. I wrote this article about that > https://winefolio.co.nz/?p=7708.
Onto the wines! We had good support from across the country. The results are a triumph for top-quality Marlborough wines, but if we were doing a “Top 20 tasting” you’d have seen that other regions are making excellent versions of this. Central Otago will be disappointed to miss out on making this list, and rightly so – with several very, very good wines missing out by a single point – I am sorry for this, but that is how judging goes… we just taste, score, and add up the points. A wine from Wairarapa makes the podium, and could easily have been joined by more from this area.
The other entry to join the Marlborough winners comes from Hawke’s Bay and was one of several lovely wines from that currently-embattled region. A smattering of others from across NZ show that we make great versions of this wine from pretty much everywhere. Only a relatively small percentage of what we tasted would get the dreaded “No Award” comment from our panel. There were a handful of overseas entries too – that are readily available in high street stores like Glengarry, or from subscription services such as Laithwaites. Price indication was the current cost at Glengarry.co.nz or on the producer’s own website at time of writing.
We pulled a few corks – interesting to see this in what is generally regarded as a ‘drink young’ white wine, as some labels look to the potential of ageability in Sauvignon Blanc. In France, the expression of this important grape is often quite different, and the number of styles that crossed our table at this tasting that were moving in that direction were, in my opinion, increasing in number, and quality. A number of the wines in our Top 10 use some oak in the making of the wines, to some degree. It’s a different style, and, as judges, we always have the discussion about putting wines from a wide category into smaller sub-categories – to better judge one against another.
But, I do tend towards the ethos that a widest range of category will enable “anyone to win”. I’m just looking for the best wine of the day. The most delicious sip of wine to pass my lips on that afternoon. And I don’t particularly want to have to say whittle that down to something like ‘the best wine with a cork in it”, and so forth. Let the best wine win.
And, with that – here are the results.
#1 Lake Chalice The Raptor 2022 A single vineyard wine from Dillons Point in Marlborough. Displaying an inviting perfume that leaps out of the glass. Green and gold, with tropical notes as well as pea pod, cucumber, gooseberry and blackcurrant. A thrilling bounce of sharp acidity. The finish is unstoppable, long dry and lingering. It is rare to find a version with such concentration and depth. In fact it is rare to find as good as this, full stop. Our no.1 today, and probably the best of that ‘classic’ Marlborough Sauvignon style I can personally recall – in many years. A showstopper. $19.99
I contacted Lake Chalice wines with the news today, and they had this to say about their winning wine –
Lake Chalice Winemaker Chloe targeted particular small parcels of unique fruit, from the renowned Dillons point area. A limited release expression consisting of small parcels of fruit – a rich and elegant wine, showing impressive weight and complexity. Our goal simply is to create wines that everyone can enjoy, for each drop to tell its own story and journey.
“I think Sauvignon is a great storyteller in the sense that it paints a generous picture of the season. It’s an instantly expressive variety and communicates its virtues so well. My favourite time to enjoy it is anytime we have fresh seafood that Dad has prepared for us!” Chloe Gabrielsen – Lake Chalice Winemaker.
#2 Astrolabe Taihoa 2021 Another single vineyard wine – from the Taihoa Vineyard on Marlborough’s southern Kēkerengū coast. It has exquisite varietal notes on the nose, but has a twist – being wild fermented in old 500 litre oak puncheons. Fennel, apple, lemon peel, sorrel and capsicum aromas, with just an almond and nougat note that hints at the wood involved. Linear, focused and with a bright energy and tightness through the palate. Great finish, and a great ‘alternative’ style of Marlborough Sauvignon. $37
#3 Schubert 2022 A wine from Wairarapa in North Island. Very pale in the glass, with a subtle, elegant nose that is quite flinty and herbal. There is fruit – golden apple, blackcurrant, white peach and pink grapefruit, but the palate is dry and the fruit doesn’t dominate in what is a precise balance between minerality, fruit, a smooth texture and a terrific line of acidity. There is a calmness to the way this unwinds as well – into a pithy, harmonic finish. $29
#4 Yealands S1 Single Block 2022 Yealands have this distinctive ‘Awatere’ style to their wines, and this S1 block is a super-charged expression of that. A walk along a salt-licked windswept seashore into a clean, fresh zing of aromatics. Flits between lime zest, jalapeno, crushed green herbs and a riper honeysuckle, dried pineapple and nectarine. Some lees-led phenolics and an enveloping texture round out what started testy and austere, but ends smooth and silken. $29.95
#5 Tohu Whenua Awa 2022 From the Arapoto block in the Upper Awatere Vineyard. A quite ripe style for the sub-region – ripe tropical notes of nectarine, guava and pineapple sit over the citrus, herbs and lemon blossom florals. Plush and rounded into the palate, but with a delicious spark of acidity that gives a salivating flow. Great clarity in what is a very approachable, but quite structured and poised example. $24.99
#6 Church Rd Grand Reserve 2019 A barrel-fermented style that stands out from the previous five in style and statement. Grapefruit, white peach, lemon, passionfruit, vanilla and jasmine all combine in a perfume that is heady, oaky and rich. White pepper and baking spice are also layered through a wine that is complex, textural and full-bodied. Lazy to dismiss as “Sav for Chardonnay drinkers” – this is far more than that – an age-worthy drop of our best-known varietal. $35
#7 Mudhouse Woolshed Vineyard 2022 A single vineyard wine from the Upper Wairau Valley. Again, kicking in with grapefruit on the nose, with gooseberry, satsuma, chestnut and fresh herbs. Really zesty and pithy through the palate – a prickle and phenolic tang emerging as it evolves and broadens slightly. One of the freshest and driest finishes, but goes for miles. $26.99
#8 Rapaura Springs Bull Paddock Vineyard 2022 A single vineyard wine from Dillons Point (like our no.1) – one of the star sub-regions that are emerging in Marlborough. This sticks with that well-regarded Marlborough style but adds a few moves of its own. Passionfruit, whitecurrant, guava and melon galore, with a lip-smacking palate that just pulses with succulent fruit. One of the most fruit-forward of our Top 10, but it doesn’t lack for structure and verve, filled with energy and character. Dives headlong into a drier, juicy finish of great length. $26.99
#9 Greywacke Wild Sauvignon 2020 A wine that the Judd family at Greywacke are happy to offer as ‘Archive Release’ wines with many years of extra age in bottle. Such is the style that this barrel-fermented (in old oak) is heading for – ageability and grace. This current-release 2020 displays impressive depth, silky phenolics and plush, rounded textures. Savoury notes mix with the ripe, precise fruit flavours and conclude in a finish of detail and finesse. $39.99
#10 Rapaura Springs Reserve 2022 A super-springy nose, that blooms with the aromatics that the world has come to love from Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. A modern style with kumquat, tomato stalk, jasmine and lemongrass alongside the whitecurrant, asparagus and cut grass. The palate is vibrant, crisp and generous, with a touch of fruit sweetness balancing the rapier-sharp green elements and some silvery acid. $16.99