Exports of New Zealand wines to the U.S. have continued to enjoy healthy growth during difficult times, driven by our seemingly bottomless thirst for that country’s bracing and usually gently priced sauvignon blancs, which accounted for nearly 90% of New Zealand wine shipped here in the past year. Not surprisingly, given the importance of this cash crop to the New Zealand wine industry, new plantings of sauvignon blanc vines have been coming on stream in recent years, and much of this young-vines juice is going into cheap, high-volume wines for supermarket chains in England and Australia. But most of New Zealand’s better producers of sauvignon are represented in the U.S. market. Sure, a lot of them offer essentially interchangeable wines, but if you know where to look you can find examples with uncommon intensity and flavor appeal, even at extremely low prices.
Here’s where to look. The wines below, culled from my extensive coverage of New Zealand sauvignon blancs and pinot noirs in the current issue of the International Wine Cellar, are presented in ascending order of price. All offer excellent value quality/price rapport (they’re close to Screaming Values) as well as wide availability in the marketplace.
The subtly complex nose of the Tohu Wines 2011 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough ($13; Total Beverage Solution) delivers scents of grapefruit, quinine, ginger and nutmeg. It’s a dense and sappy wine with varietally accurate flavors of grapefruit, gooseberry and minerals framed by bright acidity. And it’s a superb value.
The Mohua 2011 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough ($13; Vineyard Brands) offers a similarly compelling value proposition, with aromas of lime and grapefruit lifted by an ethereal dusty spice element. Bright, sappy and intense, this aggressively priced sauvignon shows excellent breadth to its dense melon, tropical fruit and spice flavors. Sweet stone fruits linger on the savory, persistent finish.
The 2011 Sauvignon Blanc Awatere Valley Marlborough from Vavasour Wines ($15; Foley Family Wines), which needs a bit of air for its CO2 to dissipate, boasts pungent aromas and flavors of lemon, pineapple, grapefruit zest, tarragon and anise. It’s a supple, intense wine with captivating inner-mouth perfume and a tangy, gripping finish featuring minerals and underripe pineapple.
Goldwater Estate, a noted sauvignon specialist, has made a very successful and classic wine from the cool, long growing season of 2010. Their Sauvignon Blanc Wairau Valley Marlborough ($18-$20; Pasternak Wine Imports) displays quintessential Marlborough sauvignon aromas of lime, gooseberry, ginger and white pepper, along with a light herbal element. Its ripe, bright grapefruit, lime and pepper flavors carry through nicely on the juicy whiplash of a finish.
Craggy Range Vineyards makes a consistently strong sauvignon blanc from Martinborough, a growing region best known for its pinot noirs. The 2011 Sauvignon Blanc Te Muna Road Vineyard Martinborough ($22; Kobrand Inc.) displays piquant aromas of grapefruit pith, lime, bell pepper, anise and basil. It’s juicy, dry and penetrating, with excellent palate presence and thrust to its grapefruit and tropical fruit flavors. The finish is dense and long.
Villa Maria Estate, which bottles a large number of varietal wines at a range of price points, has a winner in their 2011 Sauvignon Blanc Cellar Selection Marlborough ($22; Ste. Michelle Wine Estates). It’s riper and more tropical on the nose than their less-expensive Private Bin sauvignon, but also impressively concentrated and tightly coiled on the palate, with lovely intensity to its mineral and spice flavors. The long finish of this serious sauvignon resounds with saline minerality.
Finally, the 2011 Matua Valley Wines Sauvignon Blanc Paretai Marlborough ($22; Penfolds Wine) is a big boy at 14% alcohol but its pungent aromas of grapefruit pith, gooseberry, pepper and anise show classic sauvignon verve. It’s dense and thick for the variety, but its hint of sweetness is more than countered by dusty minerality and a bracing grapefruit element on the back. This distinctly saline, uncompromising sauvignon blanc finishes smooth, rich and impressively long.