A not-of-this-world Sauvignon Blanc

New Zealand’s Cloudy Bay and a wine that has become a symbol of New World’s viticulture

Cloudy Bay winery in Marlborough, a region in the

Cloudy Bay winery in Marlborough, a region in the North East of New Zealand’s South island. Their Sauvignon Blanc is one of the highest wine-expressions of the country, a symbol of the adaptability of this non-autochthonous grape variety to different soils (photo from Tripadvisor)

My first wine from New Zealand was one of the strongholds of kiwi viticulture, namely Cloudy Bay. Their top wine, the one through which people have began to know them, is their Sauvignon Blanc, and my first tasting is that of the 2000 vintage. At the time it was more a question of novelty, and the idea that this bottle arrived not only from abroad but from a country of whose location I wasn’t quite sure of, was more important than the content itself.

That of Marlborough, in this sense, is a history tied to the appeal of New Zealand and of Sauvignon Blanc, the grape that has been the driving force for the birth of an appellation, representing something exotic but available to everyone. What I remember mostly of that tasting are the comments of some wine-tasters who were more experienced than me: a couple of them were destroying this myth, the others were quite happy that the wood wasn’t overwhelming, in comparison with other vintages. What Cloudy Bay has represented is the possibility of producing wines that would not only be destined to the bulk wine category, but that could represent something, perhaps a territory or a history. I keep things relatively vague in defining the object because the difference with European producers, French and Italian first of all, is particularly based on the (lack of an) identification with territory.

Now, the fact that a grape variety can express itself in different ways at different latitudes is still something not completely accepted (take for instance the many tasting panels in which people search for the characteristics of a grape variety they already know, learnt thanks to a more or less intense frequentation of a territory), but what has made of Sauvignon Blanc the chosen grape for the new world of wine has to be the non-difficult character it has, which can be found both in the vineyard and in the bottle, and its capacity of tolerating wood slightly better than other grapes.

Cinzia Piatti, a girl from Bergamo in New Zealand

Cinzia Piatti, a girl from Bergamo in New Zealand

Many have certainly been through a phase of excessive wood (he who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone...) but overall it is not the use of wood that one first notices in Sauvignons from New Zealand. Sauvignon Blanc stands out in Marlborough, which is in the Northern part of South Island, but it is also cultivated in Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne and Martinborough, which are to be found in the South of North Island; these are wines mostly to be found at around 10 dollars and can be easily “identified”. Were one to make a very general distinction, you could say that the Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough has a stronger acidity when compared to the wines from the North, which are generally rounder and fruitier.

For a European who already has clear idea what he likes, these wines are almost certainly still too sweet, especially if you are used to the acidity of certain wines from the north of Bourgogne; but there are very many Sauvignons that are much more than pleasant, and the best ones even start to offer a certain ageing, something that will have the experts smile but which in this case is not conceived.


Piatti downunder

Delicacies from Australia and New Zealand told by Cinzia Piatti