It is no secret to my readers that my favorite white grape is Sauvignon Blanc, and of course, there are many places/ appellations in the world, where great quality Sauvignon Blanc is produced; yet the first place that comes to my mind immediately is Marlborough in New Zealand.
Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs are so special and dear to me, this is one of the few wine regions in the world where I spend most of my hard earned dollars. There’s nothing better than a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc after a long work day, especially now that the days are warmer and longer! Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs are not only very affordable (prices start at $12 and up) but they are super refreshing, crispy and so aromatic and fruitful because they showcase a concentration, focus and intensity of flavors not found in any other Sauvignon Blanc in the world. I think this is why, starting in the mid 1980s, these wines became such a huge commercial success.
In honor of International Sauvignon Blanc Day that this year falls on May 7, I invite you to dive in and learn about the largest and most important appellation in New Zealand. Let me start by saying that even though we know of vines being planted in Marlborough since 1873, the wine industry as we know it today, didn’t start until 1973, so it's relatively young. This was the year that a wine giant called Montana (nowadays known as Brancott Estate) started planting vines for commercial wine production in the area. Another very important year was 1985, and this was when Cloudy Bay, which is one of the best known brands of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, gained international acclaim and literally put New Zealand on the map of wine producing countries. Marlborough is the most important New Zealand appellation, mostly because 90% of all Sauvignon Blanc vineyards are located here and because 80% of all New Zealand wine exports are from only one grape variety: Sauvignon Blanc.
Maps courtesy of New Zealand Wine Growers
Located in the north east of the southern island, Marlborough enjoys between 2,000 to 2,500 sunshine hours a year, this means it’s sunnier than most regions in the world, including the Loire Valley, also famous for their Sauvignon Blancs. Extra sun allows a long and slow ripening season, that is good not only for grapes but also vegetables and other edible fruits. Because of its southern location and proximity to the sea, Marlborough enjoys a cool maritime climate, good to build flavors in the fruit and retain natural acidity, creating an ideal environment not only for Sauvignon Blanc but for other early ripening varieties such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Marlborough is also a good place to grow other aromatic varieties such as Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Viognier and lately some wineries are experimenting with Arneis and Gruner Veltliner.
A total of almost 28,000 ha are dedicated to vineyards, about 85% of those dedicated exclusively to Sauvignon Blanc. The rest is dedicated to Pinot Noir, which is second in importance, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.
The Southern Island is influenced by the presence of a mountain chain called the Southern Alps. These go from the north east (in Marlborough) to the south west of the island, traversing it completely. Alongside the Southern Alps, there are many mountain ranges and valleys which will provide different aspects that affect the topography of Marlborough. Yet, most of the vineyards except a few exceptions, are planted on flat lands and this was done on purpose, to allow the use of mechanization.
There are three sub-regions within Marlborough, and of course the soils and climate vary among them.
To the north we find the Wairau Valley, which is the largest of all 3 sub-regions, most vineyards here are planted on very draining soils that feature a mix of old gravel with alluvial soils from the Wairau river. The Richmond ranges on the west protect this district from the cool Tasmanian sea influence, impending rains. Because it’s warmer and drier here, the wines tend to be riper, pungent and more tropical, showing guava, passion fruit and mango notes.
Next comes the Southern Valley district, the soils here are older, rich in clay, holding more moisture. Wines from this area tend to be richer in texture and more concentrated. This area is very well known not only for their Sauvignon Blanc but also for their impressive Pinot Noir. Most of the Pinot Noir is planted on rolling hills.
Finally, we have the Awatere Valley, this is the driest, coolest and windiest subregion. Soils here vary between alluvial gravel, clay and sandstone. Wines produced here are more refined, with brighter acidity (higher), noticeable minerality and herbaceous character (with plenty of pyrazines).
Stylistically Marlborough wines show precision, zesty acidity, plenty of fruit, and are usually fermented reductively in stainless steel. Oak is usually avoided for all aromatic whites including Sauvignon Blanc. Marlborough also produces fantastic Pinot Noirs in the new world style, that boasts plenty of black fruit notes including dark cherries, plums and delicious spices.
So what do you say? are you ready to taste some elegant Sauvignon Blanc?
My Wine Recommendations: though March was a horrible month for me, I knew things would shape up the moment I started receiving my samples of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Thanks to New Zealand Wine Growers, importers and wineries for sending me this beautiful selection of whites.
Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2020 $12.99
A textbook classic from the producer that started it all! showing pink grapefruit, fennel and lime notes. Refreshing!
Mohua Sauvignon Blanc 2019, $15.99
Lively Sauvignon Blanc featuring lime sherbet, passion fruit and tomato leaf notes. Juicy!
Momo Sauvignon Blanc 2020, $18.99
Made from certified organic grapes, this Sauvignon Blanc showcases pineapple and lemon Meyer notes and a very lively finish.
Shelter Bay Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2019 $16.99
Grapefruit and fresh cut green grass flavors are rightly knitted in this beautiful white! Vibrant finish.
Seresin Sauvignon Blanc 2018, $22
Lean and racy Sauvignon Blanc that tastes similar to those made in the Loire Valley. It features zippy minerality and citrusy lemon peel and grapefruit notes.
Spy Valley Satellite Sauvignon Blanc 2020 $14.99
Easy drinking and refreshing Sauvignon Blanc showing green pepper and passion fruit notes. Inviting, super tangy finish!
Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2020 $19.99
Very focused Sauvignon blanc, featuring gooseberry, pineapple and lime peel flavors. Delish!
The Infamous Goose 2020, $15.99
Precise Sauvignon Blanc offers lemon zest, green pepper and white peach notes that end in a mouthwatering finish.