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Home Winners > Winners 2012 > VARIETAL CLASSICS: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

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Varietal Classics: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

Always a strong category, Kiwi Sav this year delivered wines that showed both the ‘classic’ style and the emerging ‘nouvelle elegance’


Sommeliers’ eyes might glaze over at mention of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. And it’s true that the Kiwis have planted enough of it to replenish the UK’s depleted aquifers at a stroke. But this has remained a strong category in SWA down the years, with plenty of medals, positive feedback and decent wines for the money.

And so it proved again this year.

In the Varietal Classic section, our tasters were largely looking for wines at a competitive price that bellowed ‘Kiwi Sav’ at you. Certainly in the early stages, the cheaper, less complex, more aromatically uplifted styles were thought better for this reason.

‘Customers who spend on NZ Sauvignon are likely to want a particular style that they know,’ said Greg Sherwood MW of Handford Wines. ‘So while some of the pricier examples had a more rounded and textural quality the simpler wines delivered better.’

Laura Ward of Vivat Bacchus agreed. ‘The cheapest wine showed well with classic examples of NZ Sauvignon character. Customers would be very disappointed if they ordered NZ Sauvignon and it was not what they expected, which ruled out some pricier wines.’

‘If you want Old World-style Sauvignon you would go to the Old World,’ grumped Henley Hotel du Vin’s Michael Harrison.

All of which rather leaves the country’s winemakers between minerality and a hard place.

Having been told for years by the restaurant trade that their wines are too big and aromatic to be workable with food, and that sommeliers need restraint and minerality, it’s hard not to feel some sympathy with the Kiwis here.

Produce elegant, restrained wines and they are castigated for ‘not being typically New Zealand’. Produce classic Kiwi Sav and they are told that it’s not food-friendly enough. It’s difficult to know what they could do to square this circle – apart, of course, from making restrained wine and putting it in a French bottle…

Happily, though, there were tasting teams out there who ‘got’ the more restrained versions as well, which is how Craggy Range’s excellent Avery Vineyard made it onto the Gold List for the second year in succession. Backed up by the more in-your-face ‘look at me I’m a Kiwi Sav’ Spy Valley, they made for an excellent snapshot of what is happening with the grape in the South Island. And the slew of Silvers suggested a continued overall strength to the category.

‘I believe in new Zealand Sauvignon again,’ said consultant Maria Rodriguez, sounding as though she’d just been to an evangelical gathering. ‘It’s becoming the perfect lunch wine. The wines are not forced and the naturalness works with any food you want to put with it.’

‘We found typicity, but also elegance and gentler notes, especially in the pricier wines, which showed more vegetal and rounded character, being more food-friendly.’ Marco Feraldi, Galvin La Chapelle

‘Kiwi Sauvignon is on the money for Indian food. The wines have fruit and zest and grassiness, which really works with complex spicy food. You need those different layers.’ Maria Rodriguez, consultant