For most of us Australia holds the image of surfboards, hot sun-drenched beaches and big, bold full flavoured wines. For round, buttery, tropical fruit chardonnays and muscular, warm, spicy shiraz there is no better place to look. Unfortunately it can be a little bit more difficult to find the crisp, sharper styles of wines. The Clare valley and the Adelaide Hills do make some nice Rieslings and Sauvignon Blancs but when you want antipodean acidity look to New Zealand.
They do a superb job of promoting themselves and the image we have of this country is that of cool, lush green valleys, snow capped mountains and rolling hillsides. This is the kind of flavour we expect in their white wines – green and fresh, crisp, clean and bursting with ripe gooseberry, green pea and asparagus aromas.
Not too long ago the Kiwis were making fairly uninspiring wine - before 1961 it was even illegal to drink wine in a restaurant! – but since the late 70’s the wines have moved forward at a rapid pace. One of the great success stories of this time has to be Cloudy Bay. A well designed label that captured everything about the style of the wine and its place of origin, it soon became a classic wine, bringing worldwide demand to the sauvignon blancs of the Marlborough region.
This area at the northern tip of the south island is a flat wide valley protected on either side by mountains. Where the Wairau river has snaked from side to side, it has left a variety of alluvial deposits from rocky gravels to fine silts. Sauvignons from these different soils can range in aromas from tropical and passion fruit to green capsicum and tomato stalk. Other factors that affect the unique styles of flavours created here include the extreme diurnal temperature variation between day and night (a overnight drop of at least 10 degrees) this makes the vine work hard.
A long cool summer with low cloud cover and plenty of sunshine creates what the white-coated lab boys call methoxypyrozenes – this is the catty, grassy, raw green pepper character that gives these wines their zing.
As Summer hots up and barbeques are dusted down these wines are wonderful for al fresco dining. As first course wines serve them against summer salads with light citrus dressings, nasturtium flowers, asparagus tips and pea shoots. Or with fresh oysters and lime wedges, grilled gamba prawns or green lipped New Zealand mussels. Shellfish cerviche with a little green chilli especially with scallops can be wonderful. Avoid using cream based sauces as these are best kept for chardonnays that are barrel aged and have a creamy texture. Sauvignons are best with grassy olive oil based sauces or herbal salsa verdes, even pesto sauces with white meats.
The best producers of Marlborough sauvignon include Cloudy Bay, Dog Point, Gravitas, Seresin, Saint Clair, Craggy Range and Villa Maria. Young vintages are what this wine is about, try and avoid 2004 which produced some poor quality wines, 2003 was good for many if you like mature sauvignon. But don’t be so old fashioned to be afraid of screwcaps – New Zealand is the screwcap champion of the world, and for these wines quite rightly too.
Lastly don’t think of New Zealand as a one horse pony – its Pinot Noirs from the southern region of Central Otago are starting to be very impressive as are the aromatic grapes such as Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer.