We can’t get enough of this extroverted sipper. It burst onto the scene with heady-fruit and green-vegetable aromas and crisp acidity in the mid-1980s, and there’s one region in particular to thank: Marlborough.
Tucked into the northeast corner of New Zealand’s South Island, Marlborough grows the lion’s share of the country’s Sauvignon Blanc across two subregions, Wairau Valley and Awatere Valley. Both are relatively dry and maritime influenced, but the cooler, more seaward Awatere produces slightly more herbaceous, saline Sauvignon than Wairau.
Elsewhere in New Zealand, the style changes with the terroirs, but not drastically. Sauvignon Blanc is produced across the country, from Nelson to Canterbury and Wairarapa to Gisborne.
Toward the bottom of the South Island, Central Otago’s semi-continental climate leads to wines with more gunflint and herbal tones overlain with pineapple and passion fruit. About midway up the east coast of the North Island in Hawke’s Bay, warmer, milder growing conditions produce unsurprisingly riper, richer wines.
Ultimately, though, winemaking choices affect the final wine most noticeably. Try Sauvignon aged in oak and/or on its lees and compare it to one picked early and sent straight to stainless. Sample “naturally” made, cellar worthy or sparkling Sauvignon Blanc. You’ll be sipping your way to Sauvignon Blanc savviness in no time.
Eight bottles to try
Villa Maria Private Bin (Marlborough); $14. A Marlborough standard-bearer from one of the country’s most well known names.
Mt. Beautiful (Canterbury); $16. A textured, bright-fruited expression from south of Marlborough.
Glover Family Zephyr (Marlborough); $17. An emerging, family-run winery with vineyards right by the sea in the Awatere Valley.
Trinity Hill (Hawke’s Bay); $17. A delicate, mineral-driven Sauvignon from one of Hawke’s Bay’s leaders.
Clos Henri Petit Clos (Marlborough); $18. Terroir expression at its finest from a boutique biodynamic producer.
Ata Rangi (Martinborough); $20. Barrel fermentation, skin contact and partial malolactic fermentation make a complex wine.
Hillersden Sparkling (Marlborough); $22. A fruity Prosecco-style bubbly from a relatively small, family-run operation.
Greywacke Wild (Marlborough); $29. Wild yeast, lees stirring and oak make for a full-bodied expression.