I was barely off the plane when Terry Dunleavy, the then New Zealand head wine honcho, accosted me. ‘Should we stick to sauvignon or diversify?’ Too jetlagged to think, I muttered something inane to the tune of if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it. 25 years on, sauvignon blanc remains New Zealand’s bread and butter at more than 20,000 hectares planted, but 14,000 hectares of pinot noir, chardonnay, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and aromatic white grapes testify to a much tastier wedge of jam in the sandwich. Allied to an impressive consistency of quality, it’s not surprising that New Zealand, although relatively tiny, sells more wine at over £7 a bottle than any other country except France.
At its 35th annual New Zealand tasting in London, one of the more recent sauvignon blanc styles on show was its oaked version, which it seems to be achieving with mixed success. Apart from a few overoaked wines, the most successful examples I tasted were an accomplished, fragrant and creamy-textured, tropically intense Clos Marguerite Sauvignon Blanc 2015, £18.50, Swig, and a supersubtle oak polished, nutty Graves-style 2013 Churton Best End Sauvignon Blanc 2013, £21.95, Tanners. In the pungently aromatic, fresh and zingy style, I enjoyed a mouthwateringly grapefruit zesty fresh 2015 Yealands Estate Sauvignon Blanc £11.95, Great Western Wine and intense, tonguetingling 2015 Brancott Estate Awatere Valley Terroir Series Sauvignon Blanc, £13.49, multibuy £11.99, Majestic.
Syrah is rightly so-called not just to distinguish it from Australia’s shiraz, but because the Hawkes Bay style comes with the spice and pepper beloved of Northern Rhône devotees, and there were excellent examples in the richly dark fruited and subtly oaked 2013 Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Syrah, £17.50, The Wine Society, and perfumed, spicy and concentrated 2013 Elephant Hill Syrah, Field & Fawcett. It was once thought that pinot noir in New Zealand (of which more soon) was only good for sparkling wine, and although it’s been all change on that score, pinot noir still works beautifully in such excellent fizzes as the rich and toasty 2009 Huia Brut, £20.99, Sustainable Wines, Bibendum, and the tangy, delicately biscuity Cloudy Bay Pelorus, £20, Morrisons.
Something For the Weekend 20 February 2016
2013 La Grange des Combes St-Chinian Roquebrun
From the excellent Roquebrun co-operative in mountainous Languedoc, this casserole-friendly blend of syrah, grenache and mourvèdre is smoky and robust with the distinctive herb-infused aromas and blackberryish flavours of its region.
£11.99, buy 6 save £12, £9.99, Majestic.
2014 Sancerre La Moussière
A super-stylish biodynamic sauvignon blanc from Alphonse Mellot, this is an intense dry white whose herbal aromatics and gooseberryish flavours are transformed into vin de terroir by an added dimension of incisive mineral crispness. £16, down from £18, until Tuesday, Sainsbury’s.
2012 Leeuwin Estate Margaret River Art Series Shiraz.
A finely crafted, balanced Western Aussie shiraz with sweetly spiced, peppery fragrance and ripe but velvet-textured black cherry and blackberry fruit, finishing on an elegantly savoury note. Around £28, D. Byrne, Fortnum & Mason, Domaine Direct. www.domainedirect.co.uk.