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 NEW WORLD: Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand

2016 Gold: 5 Silver: 6 Bronze: 2 Commended: 5
2015 Gold: 2 Silver: 1 Bronze: 1 Commended: 4

New Zealand is in something of a state of flux with its Sauvignon Blanc. It might be over-egging it slightly to call it an existential crisis, but a once unashamedly happy wine style is now definitely prone to moodily stirring cups of coffee and turning its collar up against autumnal rains.

It’s significant, for instance, that we got a smaller number of Kiwi Sav entries in our ‘Varietal Classic’ section, but an increase here. This, if you like, is where the wines of ambition go: wines that want to do a bit more than just entertain; that want to be taken seriously as artists.

So, less of the joyful tropical fruits and more of the minerality; less of the ‘glug it while you’re watching X Factor’ and more of the ‘this is simply divine with roast turbot and scallions, Arabella’.

Rather like Woody Allen moving away from comedy to Art House, you can’t blame the Kiwis for wanting to branch out. And on this evidence, it’s working. To get five Gold medals here, laddering all the way from the extraordinarily priced Frost Pocket at under £5 to Spy Valley at over £13 was a strong performance.

The trouble is that the public (for sure) and a fair few of the trade are still big fans of the old style. Metaphorically, they like The Sleeper and Bananas, they’re not sure they’re ready for Interiors just yet, however much more grown-up it is.

Stylistic variations and varying expectations explain how a category that did so well for medals also attracted a fair bit of negative feedback. So if ‘expecting one thing and getting another’ is the problem, maybe some sort of cru classification system would help to clarify the style the winery is going for. Just a suggestion…

FROM THE TASTING TEAMS

‘There’s a place for the wine at all ends of the market – you can get some good-quality flavours at the cheaper end.’ Ian Howard, The White Hart Inn at Lydgate

‘I think if you’d done this five years ago you’d see more residual [sugar]. There weren’t too many big tropical styles, there were some that were more stony, mineral edged.’ Simon Woods, team leader

‘There was a good spectrum of styles. A £4 wine got a medal but there was a wedge in the middle that weren’t very exciting.’ Sarah Jane Evans MW, team leader

‘Really tight, really restrained, really lean, there were a couple that had varietal characteristics but they weren’t great.’ Sam Caporn MW, team leader

“Overall it was very disappointing. They weren’t what your punter would expect from New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.” Daniel Murray, Berners Tavern

“They were exactly what you would expect from New Zealand Sauvignon.” Luciana Girotto-Beckett, consultant