Nutty dry whites, here I come. Words like palo cortado and amontillado, aged Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay are the usual ones to spring to mind when thinking of nutty dry whites but it’s International Sauvignon Blanc Day today and I’ve just tasted four fascinating older Sauvignons (with a portion of older oak fermentation) from one of New Zealand’s smallest wine regions. Martinborough’s eastern sub area of Te Muna (same soils and climate, only on interesting terraced vineyards).
A retrospective tasting… Sauvignon Blanc can age and develop nutty flavours, while retaining fresh characters
The Big Sky wine brand was founded by Katherine Jacobs and Jeremy Corban (yes, of the Corban wine legacy) and she popped over at a safe distance earlier this week to drop off the wines above for me to taste. We have talked many times over the years about whether or not New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc can age well, prompted largely by my suggestion that good vintages can age significantly better under screwcap than they used to under cork. These low cropped, small production, partially barrel fermented (all old wood) Sauvignon Blancs prove the point, big time. Delish.
The Jacobs-Corban couple own a beautiful piece of land on Te Muna Road, 9 kilometres east of Martinborough, five hectares of which is planted and producing grapes, just 1200 plants of which are Sauvignon Blanc which was planted in 1989. Their brand name Big Sky is a no brainer. Just stand anywhere in Martinborough on a clear night, of which there are many, and look up. I can testify to this, having moved here in December last year, except I only spent about half of my time here, til lockdown. There’s are few better places to be, due to the sheer beauty and clear skies and I can see why the Big Sky couple chose to live and make wine here.
Most of their vineyard is planted in Pinot Noir, which reflects this region’s greatest wine strength to date, but I have always been really impressed by their Sauvignon Blancs and the four wines pictured above show why; some of them are available for purchase but quantities remain small. If you’re keen, contact Katherine Jacobs: email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Here’s a snapshot of our conversations over the years and this week:
What led you to open older Sauvignon Blancs?
KJ: “International Sauvignon Day was looming and we’ve been getting to that next level of sorting out things while in lockdown, so I said to Jeremy, why are we keeping these whites? We decided to taste them and it was interesting to see how well they had aged and evolved.”
What impressed you most about these older Sauvignon Blancs?
KJ: “They tasted balanced but with developed flavours; Sauvignon but not as you know it – a really sophisticated wine. And they have remained fresh.”
What made you choose older oak rather than new barrels for maturation?
KJ: “The purpose of leaving it in wood for a while is that it develops texture and settles as it macerates. We are not looking for wood flavours but rather for weight and softness.”
Why do you think these wines have aged well, remaining fresh?
KJ: “We’ve always done a bit of barrel fermentation (older wood) for about 30% of the wine and we really like what lees stirring does to the wine. We get all the beautiful antioxidant quality from the lees. We have always tried to stretch out the ferment so it’s long, slow and cool.”
- Sauvignon Blanc accounts for 85.6% of New Zealand wine exports and approximately 70% (please feel free to correct me) of this country’s national vineyard area.
Big Sky retrospective tasting
2008 Big Sky Te Muna Road Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc
Nutty dry white, here I come ; a hint of fresh herbs and baked apple but here’s a wine that ages superbly and still drinks well, despite coming from a relatively generous (big) vintage, albeit still small in Martinborough. lees contact provides texture and weight with lively acidity adding fresh citrusy length. Tasty!
2010 Big Sky Te Muna Road Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc
More herbaceousness showing through in this wine…. noticeably higher acidity than the others in this line up and still drinking well with fresh citrus flavours.
2011 Big Sky Te Muna Road Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc
Creamy, nutty taste and citrusy with fresh acidity adding great length and zingy freshness to this lively dry white.
2019 Big Sky Te Muna Road Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc
Very fresh and very young – after the others, this current release tastes incredibly youthful. This is the type of Sauvignon Blanc we tend to drink (we being all wine drinkers) because it’s readily available on the market, and it tastes good, but there’s so much potential for this wine to develop; softer edges, smoother body, more complex flavours. A lovely wine now and definitely one worth keeping for three to four years to enjoy with a roast chicken or, for vegetarians, roasted kumara and yams, with fresh garden salad on the side.
Happy International Sauvignon Blanc Day…
- Join me tonight at 5pm on this link: Sauvignon Blanc Day Facebook live tasting here: https://www.facebook.com/events/379507429667993/