3 Top drops… adventurous Sauvignon Blancs

Oak and Sauvignon Blanc aren’t usually attached at the hip but when winemakers take the plunge (if you’ll excuse the pun) and marry the two together, the results can be surprisingly tasty, as Michael Glover’s Mammoth Rare White, Clos Henri Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Blanc Semillon all show.

These wines are ripples on the ocean of Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand, but show how well the country’s dominant grape variety responds to bells and whistle winemaking that integrates controlled oxidative winemaking methods.

These wines command respect. Mana. Thoughtful drinking too. Why?

They break the usual style mould. Their makers have enabled these wines to develop a complex range of flavours, which express the grape, the climate in which it’s grown and also accentuate interesting winemaking techniques.

PS… Sauvignon is now 85% of New Zealand wine exports and 74% of the country’s white wine vineyard area (and white grapes make up 28,231 of the country’s total 36,192 hectares)… so it’s more important now than ever to see wines such as these trickle out of left field and into mainstream  retail stores, restaurants and bars. They’re out there for us to enjoy and to cellar them too – they will provide an interesting snapshot of the evolution in New Zealand white wine, in years to come. They are sealed with screw caps, which is another feather in their cap of age-ability in the medium to long term.

2015 Clos Henri Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc $33, 14% ABV

Clos Henri’s flagship white is a bone dry, full bodied different take on the Sauvignon Blanc theme, modelled after Sancerre in Loire Valley. The  Marlborough vineyard is planted at high density to restrain the high vigour of Sauvignon Blanc so the vines can put more energy into the grapes rather than the leaf canopy to concentrate the berries. Dry farming (no irrigation) also keeps vigour under control, forcing vine roots deep into the soil.

The wine is pale in colour but intense in taste with pronounced aromas of limes, lemons, green apple, grapefruit and even a hint of wild flowers, all supported by a creamy mouthfeel, balanced by high acidity and a long, zesty finish. It was fermented in 90% stainless steel and 10% old French oak barrels, then aged on  yeast lees for 8 months with lees stirring, both of which encourage a Sauvignon Blanc with body to burn. It works because of the concentration of fruit flavour in tandem with the winemaking.

2015 Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Blanc Semillon $31

You can taste this wine before the glass reaches your lips, thanks to the  intense aromas of elderflower, orange blossom and ripe tropical fruit, held in check by nutty dry flavours, thanks to 15% of the Sauvignon Blanc and all of the Semillon being fermented in French oak (new for the Sauvignon Blanc; old French oak for the Semillon). Both varieties were harvested from 30 year old vines, which means crop levels were relatively low, which provides concentration in this full bodied wine.

It’s dry, richly textural and modelled on the best Bordeaux white blends – putting North Canterbury’s finest freshest foot forward when it comes to white wines. Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Blanc Semillon is consistently one of the South Island’s most distinctive whites and is beginning to show a history of ageing superlatively well for up to 10 years, and it’s highly probable it can continue to evolve positively for even longer.

2015 Mammoth Rare White Nelson $50

The Waimea Plains in Nelson are home to a winemaker who eschews many of the winemaking methods he learnt at university, in favour of wines he’s on a crusade for. Meet Michael Glover. His wines are labelled Mahana Estate, with the exception of Mammoth Rare White. There are few words on this front label, which is a full frontal photo of a mammoth coming up the mountain, painted in Kapova Cave in the South Ural. This is Glover paying his respects to European history. It was while in Europe; Italy, to be precise, that he learnt there was more to winemaking life than safe methods and, when working in a winery in Campania (Naples is the capital of this Italian region), he saw white grapes being destemmed in old acacia wood puncheons (500 litre barrels) to be fermented on their skins – an old technique, which can add texture, weight and flavour (and hardness too, if not carefully managed).

Long story short, Mammoth Rare White is made from hand picked grapes grown on an organically certified vineyard with no irrigation. It began its transformation from juice into wine via a carbonic maceration (stems, skins and all, no air) for 14 days being being pressed into 200 litre French oak ‘cigars’ (to accentuate the lees – spent yeast cells – flavour in the wine). It spent 18 months there before being bottled as a bone dry, full bodied, full throttle, massively flavoursome white wine. Would you recognise it as a Sauvignon Blanc?
Yes, but with so much more besides beautiful bright fruit flavours, which remain intact here, alongside creamy, nutty, spicy, oatmeal-type flavours. A stunner from the top tip of the South Island – Nelson. Bravo.


Author: Joelle Thomson

I am a wine writer, author and educator... first bitten by a big buttery Chardonnay on a dark and stormy night in the 1980s and there was no turning back... Follow my tastings and join some too on this new site.

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