The King of New Zealand Wine Industry: Sauvignon Blanc
You can’t talk about New Zealand wine without mentioning Sauvignon Blanc grapes. In other wine regions worldwide, the grape might be blended with Sémillon Blanc, as is customary in Bordeaux. In other places, like Chile, the grape is often mistaken for Sauvignon Vert. In New Zealand, Sauv Blanc is bottled as a mono-varietal.
Sauvignon Blanc is the king of New Zealand’s wine industry — from quantity produced to the number of awards won — it’s the number-one selling grape variety in the country.
Recognized for its strong, intense personality, New World Sauvignon Blanc has skyrocketed. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of quality producers worldwide all too eager to label their wines “Sauvignon Blanc.”
You’ll often find Sauvignon Blanc on the label of many bottles of New Zealand wine, where the white wine style became famous. Sauvignon Blanc, though, originated in the Bordeaux region of France or neighboring Loire Valley.
Sauvignon Blanc Grapes
History of Sauvignon Blanc
70% of the vineyards in New Zealand are planted with Sauvignon Blanc. Frank Yukich Allen established the first plantings in 1975. The grape grower imported cuttings from France and grew them on his estate, ‘Oldfield’ near Auckland. Montana Winery, now Brancott Estate, planted the first Sauvignon vines in Marlborough in 1973 with 2,900 acres of vines. Soon, the grape became insanely popular, and the wine region was the heart of New Zealand’s wine industry. Sauvignon replaced the more popular Chenin Blanc and Müller Thurgau. The rest is history.
A government program that encouraged replanting old vineyards with new grapes helped Sauvignon gain dominance in the country, and so did the outbreak of phylloxera, which wiped out the competition.
Cloudy Bay produced the first premium Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand in the 1980s, and others soon followed. By the turn of the century, every wine lover was talking about new Zealand’s Sauvignon, riper, more tropical and fruitier than its French counterparts.
Characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc
At first glance, Sauvignon Blanc wine (Sauvignon is pronounced Sau-vee-Nyon) could easily be mistaken for any light-bodied, dry white wine. Still, Sauvignon has a unique flavor that you don’t find in any other white grape — herbaceousness. Compounds called pyrazines make wines made with Sauvignon Blanc mainly “green” on the nose, with scents reminiscent of green bell peppers, fresh cut grass, and jalapeño.
New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc also shows tropical fruit scents, from mango and guava to lychee, all over a mineral and easy-to-drink palate with impressive acidity.
Winemakers have replicated the New World Sauvignon Blanc style in many wine regions, including Northern Italy, Chile, and California.
Food Pairings with Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon Blanc might be expressive and fruit-forward, but it’s also herbal and mineral. Still, a white wine made with the grape is always light-bodied and acidic — this gives Sauvignon astounding versatility on the table.
Sauvignon Blanc is the perfect wine to pair with food, especially high-acid foods like citrus and vinegar. An acidic lemon will help balance out the high acidity of Sauvignon Blanc. Vinegar also has a high acid content, so it will work well with Sauvignon Blanc.
How does a salad sound? Seafood and raw fish, like ceviche and sushi, are all excellent Sauvignon pairings, and so is fresh and curd cheese.
Sauvignon Blanc production in New Zealand:
Sauvignon Blanc is produced worldwide, but New Zealand still sets the standard for the grape’s New World version. Most Sauvignon Blanc made in New Zealand comes from Marlborough.
The most notable vineyards are Bannockburn, Cloudy Bay Vineyard, and Villa Maria Estate.
Wines from Marlborough are considered some of the best in New Zealand, if not the world. The area produces more Sauvignon Blanc than anywhere else globally, so it’s an excellent place to start exploring this variety. Many wineries offer tours and tastings where you can try different styles and types of wine before deciding what you like most.
The good news? No bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon disappoints, so choose with your eyes closed.
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