Without doubt, Sauvignon Blanc has become New Zealand’s flagship grape variety, mainly making its home in the South Island’s Marlborough region.
For years, the iconic ‘Cloudy Bay’ brand has commanded high prices – but for me, the quality level is not what it was and other labels now offer greater value.
To get the most enjoyment out of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, it can help to get a better understanding of this iconic grape.
Why is Sauvignon Blanc such a superstar in NZ?
Since it was first planted there in 1973 – and in the 40-odd years since – it has accounted for the lion’s share of New Zealand’s wine exports.
New Zealand growers have never tried to bastardise quality in favour of a fast buck – the general quality produced throughout the country is high.
A part of Sauvignon Blanc’s mass appeal is an abundance of aromatics and fruit flavours on the palate – essential for a variety with such powerful acidity.
Working with restaurants on a daily basis, we’re constantly reminded that most ‘by the glass’ offerings are driven by price alone.
That’s not true of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, where quality is the driving factor in the majority of cases.
It’s not the easiest of food partners – shellfish and seafood certainly work, as does asparagus – but the high acidity levels make it a great aperitif wine.
New Zealand wines have the gooseberry fruit and pepper (bell pepper) found in Sauvignon worldwide.
But they also tend to have more tropical characters too, making them so much more drinkable in volume.
Plus, Sauvignon is very much an aromatic variety, with bold fragrance and flavour components.
And when these are grown to New Zealand quality levels, they really hit you between the eyes, giving the impression of more bang for your buck.
What to look for when buying Sauvignon Blanc
Firstly, as with any cooler climate wines, vintage can make a big difference.
Happily, both 2015 and 2016 have been kind to Kiwi Sauvignon – although 2015 was lower in yield.
These wines will never be the cheapest and it’s always worth spending that little bit more to ensure quality.
But there are some great value alternatives to Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc – here are three that are just as good in our eyes (and less expensive).
Dave and Cristine MacDonald’s Bladen Estate is one of the founding ones of the Marlborough region.
You’ll have to go a long way to beat the quality and style of their generous Sauvignon Blanc, with its gooseberry, grapefruit, nettle and floral hints.
These give way to a plentifully fruited palate with minerals, grapefruit zest and herbal notes and a long clean finish.
It’s perfectly balanced and – at under £13 a bottle – offers great value.
Marlborough’s Forrest Wines have created a range of lower alcohol wines that lack nothing in terms of flavour and enjoyment.
They won’t tell us the special techniques they use in both the vineyard and the winery but have admitted that special clones have been chosen for the project.
Their classic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc leaps from the glass with red capsicum, passionfruit and fresh herb aromas.
It’s full and satisfying to taste, with that crisp and refreshing tropical Marlborough finish – all at a modest 9.5 percent alcohol.
If you’d like to try something that’s not from Marlborough you can’t go far wrong with the wines of the Waipara Valley.
Although more famous for Pinot Noir and Riesling grapes, Sauvignon Blanc fares really well there – this example from Waipara Springs winery won’t disappoint.
Aromas of passionfruit, nettle and capsicum dominate the nose and these in turn flow through onto a bright palate.
Salivating acidity couples with chalky minerality to bring depth – mouthwatering at little more than £10 a bottle.
You either love it or you soon will…
If you’re already a devotee of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, enjoy the quality of these Cloudy Bay alternatives and let us know what you think.
And if you’ve not tried it yet, give a bottle a go and you’ll likely become a convert before it’s empty.