Beyond the clouds
Christine Austin discovers a fresh approach with Sauvignon which has made fortunes in Marlborough country.
That bout of hot weather convinced me just how good it is to have a decent bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in the fridge. On its own it is a refreshing, palate-cleansing, spirit-lifting, thoroughly enjoyable aperitif and when it has finished acting as a tastebud-sharpener, it can be carried through to accompany all kinds of foods from grilled fish to salads as well as lightly spiced chicken and vegetable dishes. In flavour terms, it can range from a bright nettle-green pungent style, through gooseberry freshness to soft tropical fruits, but one thing is certain – New Zealand produces some of the world’s best Sauvignon Blancs.
Marlborough at the top end of South Island is by far the largest area planted to Sauvignon. Here in the stony soil of the Wairau Valley thousands of hectares of vines march in straight lines across the essentially flat landscape.
It all started just 40 years ago with the first plantings of Sauvignon – at a time when the grape was hardly known. There was some Sauvignon planted in the Loire and we knew its taste in the wines of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé, but it was only when New Zealand Sauvignon appeared that we realised just how good it could be. The key to this region is the stony, free-draining soil and long hours of sunshine, although it has an overall cool climate which retains fresh flavours in the grapes.
The first producer to hit our market was Montana and they remain the largest producer in the region, although it is now renamed Brancott, just so the Americans don’t get confused and think the wine comes from somewhere between Idaho and Wyoming.
Smaller in size but much, much bigger in reputation is Cloudy Bay. Perhaps it was the simple, descriptive name which captured the hearts and wallets of consumers or the clever marketing which drip-fed the wine into shops, creating shortages and excitement. However there is no doubt that the quality of Cloudy Bay wines made the wines stand out with vibrant, lively fruit and a textured depth of flavour that was so much more than just a cold-shower for the tastebuds.
The winemaker in charge at Cloudy Bay from its inception was Kevin Judd and it is his skill which created the personality of that wine. But after 25 years in the job, having seen the brand grow from nothing to a world-wide phenomenon owned by a major corporation he eventually decided to leave Cloudy Bay and make his own wine.
His first vintage was astonishing since he seemed to recapture the excitement that Cloudy Bay had in those early years, while still creating a distinctive, ripe, rounded style that is fresh but without the hard green grassy notes that some Marlborough wines can show. The wine is called Greywacke (pronounced Greywacky) after the kind of stones found in the region and now, four harvests into the project the excitement is still there with in an expanding range of wines.
Naturally after all those years at Cloudy Bay he knew exactly where he wanted to source his grapes and in fact uses some from the same vineyards that used to supply the big-name wine.
He also shares winery space with former Cloudy Bay colleagues who have drifted away from that company and set up Dog Point, a winery which seems to have has morphed into a retirement project for former Cloudy Bay employees. It is a small winery that could fit into a corner of the Cloudy Bay operation and it is missing the extravagance of machinery that a major corporation can provide, but it makes up for it in sheer attention to detail. Greywacke is much more of a hand-made product than Cloudy Bay ever was.
Although Sauvignon Blanc is the most high profile wine in the range, there are now seven wines available under the Greywacke label and we are fortunate that, between them, Harrogate Fine Wine (01423 522270), The Halifax Wine Company ( 01422 256333) and Harvey Nichols (0113 204 8888) stock almost all of them.
On a cold, blustery day last January in New Zealand I tasted the range at the winery. Here are my notes:
Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2011 - £15.99: The aroma of this wine immediately excites the palate. It has bright, vivacious tropical fruit notes, with lychee, grapefruit and mandarin notes, edged with green herbaceous tones leading to a passionfruit and lime palate streaked with minerally crunch. There is a silkiness of texture which makes it food friendly. This is the wine to keep in the fridge for a warm, sunny Sunday lunch.
Greywacke Wild Sauvignon 2010 – £23.99: Is it worth paying another £8 to have a wine fermented by wild yeast? In this case, the answer is yes because it is totally different, fermented in old oak barrels which give texture and complexity rather than the flavour of oak. It has lime marmalade, dried herbs and flinty minerality on the palate which finishes long and clear. Drink with smoked salmon, cold roast chicken salad or any grilled fish.
Greywacke Chardonnay 2009 - £23.95: This is a wild-yeast, barrel-fermented wine with fresh, lemon and lime aromas, light nutty complexity and a rounded savoury palate with minerally finish. Made in tiny quantities, this is a lovely food-friendly wine.
Greywacke Riesling 2011: Not yet released and still young when I tasted it, this is vibrant and lively wine but needs time to evolve.
Greywacke Pinot Gris 2010 - £17.99: A ripe opulent style, full of nectarine, apple and fig flavours, tinged with smoky dried apricots and a long, slightly sweet finish.
Greywacke Pinot Noir 2010 - £29.99: A super, savoury, smoky bacon and ripe juicy black cherry nose with a tight, firm palate of black fruits and hints of spice. Still very young this started opening up after half an hour in the glass but still young and needing at least another year in bottle to show its best.
Greywacke Late Harvest Gewurztraminer 2009 - £21.99 for 37.5cl: Rose petals, cinnamon, mandarin and quince backed by racy acidity and a long complex finish. Team it with a pud if you must but it tastes like a dessert all on its own.
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Weather for Yorkshire
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 10 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 7 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 12 mph
Wind direction: West