One of Marlborough’s oldest wine brands has been given a new lease of life this month.

Astrolabe’s new look labels are pouring out (if you’ll excuse the pun) on its 2018, 2019 and 2020 wines, respectively.

The brand was founded by Simon Waghorn and Jane Forrest-Waghorn, in 1982. They, their children and extended family now make, market and sell the wines. Simon is well known his high quality Sauvignon Blanc, which is a long standing favourite on wine lists of restaurants nationwide in New Zealand, thanks to numerous awards but what I find fascinating about Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc is that it’s not just one – he actually makes three, all similarly priced and all vastly different, thanks to Marlborough’s sub regions.

Sub regions in Marlborough

We hear a lot about sub regions and the difference they make to the taste of Central Otago Pinot Noir but Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is pretty much all lumped together as a one horse show. Not so.

Most wines in the region may be made from grapes grown on Marlborough’s Wairau Plains but an increasing number are now blended with grapes from the Awatere Valley or made solely from Awatere grown fruit. This adds an intense zesty taste to many of the wines and especially those that are 100% Awatere, such as Whitehaven Greg Sauvignon Blanc – recent winner of a trophy at this year’s Royal Easter Wine Show and a significantly different style to the tropical fruit flavours that Marlborough whites are best known for.

The region’s southern valleys are home to a groundswell of great Marlborough Pinot Noirs too, which is another story for another time. And then there is Kekerengu, well south of Blenheim’s Wairau Plains and the Awatere Valley. To date, only Astrolabe sources grapes from here, which brings me back to the new look wines, which illustrate the sub regions of Marlborough loud and clear, or should I say smoothly, since that’s the best description of his Astrolabe Kekerengu Sauvignon Blanc.  It’s creamy, full bodied and refreshingly crisp, thanks to the cool acidity of grapes grown on the coast south, well south of Blenheim. The use of old oak and malolactic fermentation soften its texture and add complexity. It’s easily my favourite of the three Astrolabe Sauvignon Blancs.

The Astrolabe stable includes all the usual suspects. Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Rosé, but also lesser known wines such as Chenin Blanc (dry), Chenin Blanc (demi-sec) and Riesling.

Thank goodness for small mercies that someone in Marlborough still champions the greatness of Chenin and Riesling. (The same can be said of Dr John Forrest.) We need more variety in our lives, not less.

My pick of the Astrolabe wines

18.5/20

2019 Astrolabe Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc $22.99

Dry, medium bodied, tropical, intense and fruit forward in style. This is the style of Sauvignon Blanc that Marlborough is best known for it over delivers even at a slightly higher price point than many big brands – it’s worth digging deeper for.

18.5/20

2019 Astrolabe Awatere Sauvignon Blanc $22.99

Made from 100% Awatere Valley grapes, making this wine taste more herbaceous and less overtly fruit. Love the herb aromas in this style.

19/20

2018 Astrolabe Kekerengu Sauvignon Blanc $22.99

My long standing favourite, not only due to its fresh acidity from the most southern vineyard in the Marlborough region.

It’s also the  most Sancerre like Sauvignon in the stable of Astrolabe, incorporating a portion of barrel ferment (in old oak) with wild yeast fermentation and solids, which make this wine complex and fascinating. Astrolabe is the only winery making wine from Kekerengu, an area on the coast south in southern Marlborough. This wine drinks beautifully now and can age.

17.5/20

2016 Astrolabe Sleepers Vineyard Albarino $30

This wine is also made from the most southern sub region in Marlborough, namely Kekerengu on the coast, which is home to the Sleepers Vineyard. This wine is a great expression of Albarino and shows the grape’s versatility in New Zealand. It tastes dry, refreshing, tangy with tastes of green olives and a pronounced zesty finish.

18.5/20

2017 Astrolabe Farm Dry Riesling $27

A great wine that can age exceptionally well for at least a decade. It’s made mostly from hand picked grapes and mostly free run juice. It tastes  youthful in every way with itas fresh lime aromas, medium plus acidity and lovely modest 11.5% ABV. An outstanding wine with a great long life ahead – and surprisingly delicious flavours right now.

17.5/20

2017 Astrolabe Farm Spatlese Marlborough $25

Spatlese is German for late harvest, which suggests a sweeter style and this wine doesn’t disappoint with 30 grams of residual sugar, 10% alcohol and a full body, due to the botrytis; nicely balanced by high acidity. This will also age superbly and drinks well now with soft cheese of your choice.

17.5/20

2019 Astrolabe Chenin Blanc Demi-Sec $22 

Winemaker Simon Waghorn made a demisec (literally ‘half sweet’) style of Chenin because he had a little excess after the free run and thought it was too good to blend away. This wine is only just off dry with 12 grams of residual sugar, its sweetness revealing the honeyed side of Chenin more than in the drier wine. A super tasty drop – delicious on a sunny day.

18.5/20

2018 Wrekin Chenin Blanc $23.99

Wrekin Vineyard is a gently sloping, north facing, organically certified slice of wine real estate in Marlborough’s southern valleys. It’s named after an historic English hill and it’s home to the Chenin Blanc grapes that go into this crisp, refreshing, dry, zesty white. It has less than 2 grams per litre of residual sugar (making it bone dry) and it’s medium to full bodied, thanks to being made from hand harvested, whole cluster pressed grapes, which were fermented on lees, with about 30-40 per cent of the barrel ferment in old barrels. Winemaker Simon Waghorn is still on the fence about the use of barrels in Chenin Blanc since he loves the tight focussed purity of fruit that characterises the Chenin grape, but what can I say? I am a long term fan of this wine for good reason – it’s a stunner, thanks to its fresh vibrancy, barrel or not.

  • There are also three very good Pinot Noirs in the Astrolabe range, my pick being the Wrekin Vineyard Pinot, but they are another story for another day. Astrolabe Wines are relatively widely available and represent extremely good value for money, due to their high quality – great drinking during this challenging time while New Zealand is in lockdown.