Sauvignon sells

The first New Zealand International Sauvignon Blanc Celebration in February this year revealed more styles of our most widely produced wine than anyone could have guessed…

One of the highlights of the celebration in Marlborough this year was Alexandre Schmitt’s session on sensation versus perception – “Sensation is just a physiological process whereas perception is triggered from stimulation – your brain wants to know what you are smelling, so that all the parts of your brain start to work,” said Schmitt from Wine & Flavors (sic).
“Perception leads your brain to ask if you know the smell, how you would describe it and how to compare it to memories you have,” Schmitt told a room full of winemakers, marketers, writers and grape growers.
His philosophy is that each individual’s perception of flavour varies widely because each of us has had a different upbringing, different formative life experiences and different understandings of flavour based on both.
Perhaps this accounts for why oak influenced Sauvignon Blancs appealed to people at varying levels at this year’s conference. There were those who enjoyed oak-fermented Sauvignon Blancs while others prefered more subtle wines.
Strangely, though, our different upbringings and conditioning didn’t account for why everyone at the conference seemed unanimous about falling for certain wines, such as the Chilean Lo Abarca Sauvignon Blanc.
Anyone who thought that Sauvignon Blanc cannot age well in the bottle had their notions roundly shattered when they tasted that wine’s big sister – the 2009 Casa Marin Cipreses Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, which was a big bodied, barrel fermented white with high natural acidity balancing its creamy flavours. Then again, the 2015 Amisfield Central Otago Sauvignon Blanc showed how promising the world’s southernmost wine region is for full bodied whites with high acidity adding zesty freshness. Like its Chilean sister Sauvignon Blanc, this wine spent time in oak barrels – four months, which accentuates the wine’s texture in the mouth; its body and its lingering flavours.
Wines such as these are the tip of the fascinating iceberg of new wave Sauvignon Blancs today – wines with oak influence. They are sometimes labeled as ‘fume blanc’ (as in, those big oak numbers of the 1980s) but they taste more refined by far. Still, I’ll confess to being a fume fan back in the day – and I am again in love with the complexity that lees, oak and long maturation time can bring to Sauvignon Blanc.
This can mean that wines have been fully or partially fermented in 225 litre oak barriques or in 228 litre Burgundian barrels (also known as a piece) or in even larger oak vessels. It can also mean that wine has been been aged in oak after fermentation in stainless steel.
In the case of high volume oak influenced Sauvignon Blancs, the description of oak-influenced generally means the wine has spent time with a toasted oak stave in a stainless steel tank or with oak chips. Both of these budget conscious winemaking techniques can create surprisingly complex, harmonious wines with great flavour integration.
The number of Sauvignon Blancs that were included in the conference’s Wild Bunch tastings on the final day was staggering. Dog Point Section 94 is often considered the pinnacle of alternative New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but it is far from alone in pioneering a fresh new take on the theme.
The 2015 Seresin Osip Sauvignon Blanc blew my tastebuds out of the water. It contains no sulphur, so it may or may not travel well or last for long, but it tasted so fresh, fruity and clean that it begged the age-old sulphur question once more. The 2007 Sacred Hill Hawke’s Bay Sauvage was another outstanding creamy, full bodied dry white.
While most New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is made by fermenting freshly picked grapes at cool temperatures in stainless steel to preserve fruit flavours, there are many other takes on Sauvignon Blanc today – and New Zealand wine is all the better for it.

This post was originally published in Drinksbiz magazine, April/May 2016 in New Zealand.

Learn Wine 101… it’s fun

If you love wine but have always wanted to understand what’s in it, why it tastes the way it does and, more importantly, how to taste it, we have the course for you – Wine 101.
This new three evening wine course kicks off on Thursday 5 May, continuing on 12 and 19 May in the tasting room at Regional Wines & Spirits here in Wellington.

The wines we taste will be anything but ‘101’. We will share the good, the great and the unusual wines of the world – from Champagne, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc to Merlot, Nero d’Avola and Verdicchio, explaining a little wine history, clearing up lots of wine mystery and teaching you to train your mind and mouth to identify flavours – the way that exercise trains the body.

Bookings are essential for 3 evenings of fun, facts and delicious flavours at Wine 101 on three Thursdays in May; 5, 12 & 19. Buy tickets here: https://regionalwines.co.nz/events?event_id=34

Or email me to find out more: mailme@joellethomson.com

Chateau Musar

Meet Lebanon’s most famous winery

The 2007 Chateau Musar costs about $68 and is available in very limited supplies from Negotiants New Zealand… It is pale ruby in colour but the intense flavours of spice, red fruit and a seductive earthiness all make up for that.

If I didn’t know better… five words I almost had to eat this week when Ralph Hochar poured the unconventional wines from Lebanon’s most famous winery; Chateau Musar, which he has spent the past week tasting with New Zealanders in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
Ralph is one of the third generation of Hochars to run their family winery and I invited him to visit a wine class I was teaching at the New Zealand School of Food & Wine for Celia Hay (school founder) where a handful of students and I were privileged to taste the current release of the winery’s top red wine, ‘Musar’ – from Chateau Musar in Lebanon; one of the world’s oldest wine producing countries, despite its under the radar wine profile.
The winery was founded in 1930 by Gaston Hochar in Ghazir, Lebanon, and today it is run by third generation members of the Hochar family, but its reputation for top reds was forged by the late Serge Hochar. A winemaker trained in Bordeaux, Serge learnt about wine from Jean Gayon Riberau and Emile Peynaud; two highly respected (to make an understatement) wine men, whose influence has far reaching effects into many unexpected corners of the wine world. The great ‘Super Tuscans’ (blends of French grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with classic Italian Sangiovese) came about as a result of Emile Peynaud’s influence on a young Italian winemaker; Giacomo Tachis, who brought Italy back onto the world’s wine stage, post World War II. Far from being a digression, this point illustrates how great the influence of Peynaud has impacted on the wine world.
The impact that Peynaud (inadvertently perhaps) had on Lebanese impact is somewhat less known, but the Hochar family members are working to change that. And the quality of their wines support the prices. If anything, these outstanding reds are under-priced in a world that is so deeply divided by bargain bin, low priced bottles and the high priced wines on the market today.
As I say, if I didn’t know better, I’d have thought that the 2007 Chateau Musar red was from Piemonte; Italy’s great north west and home to some of the world’s most silky, elegant wines.