The Evolution of New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc Styles

(This is adapted from an article first published in World of Fine Wine, Issue 5, 2005, UK)

Ever a sucker for ‘shock of the new,’ I was lucky enough to stumble on to Marlborough sauvignon blanc accidentally during a blind tasting while captaining the Oxford University Blind Wine Tasting Team around 1988. Completely unaware that New Zealand even made wine, let alone was capable of dressing sauvignon blanc in such a wild array of psychedelic varietal characters, I was totally stumped. Eventually guessing a cool climate Sauvignon de St-Bris from Chablis, I wondered out loud whether it may have been made by someone keen on magic mushrooms.

That Marlborough sauvignon, like many after, had effortlessly Pacific Rimified Sancerre’s classic ‘cat’s pee on a gooseberry bush,’ into an outlandish fruit salad tossed full of tomato leaves, nettles, capsicums, and pepper, dressed with essence of passionfruit, gooseberry and grapefruit.  Laced with an edgy, refreshingly relentless acidity and – dare I say – deliciously  quimmish undercurrent, here was sauvignon let off its leash: sexy, sassy, full of irony and wit.

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The Evolution of Sauvignon Styles around the World

Wine styles are about connections: between grapes, sun, weather, soil and the cultures that create them. Sauvignon Blanc is no exception.

If we look at the grape’s development as a ‘single variety’ wine and its history over the last 50 years, this is as much culturally driven, as by terroir. Both ‘new’ and evolving ‘older’ Sauvigon styles are the result of a creative tension between the classic French regions, Bordeaux and the Loire Valley, and various parts of the New World that have either adapted Old World styles or openly rebelled against them by taking the grape in entirely new directions. This back and forth interchange has managed to positively sharpen Sauvignon’s edge everywhere.

Today, there are roughly four main styles of Sauvignon globally, with a few variations intent on keeping our palates interested. On one hand we have warmer climate, softer, fuller bodied, fruit and barrique-driven Bordeaux and New World Fume Blanc styles. On the other we have cooler climate, finer bodied, higher acid, floral-herbal driven styles from the Loire and New Zealand.

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