This week, we’re tasting a truly iconic New World wine: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. With this popular style, you’re going to see exactly how big of a roller coaster a seemingly simple white wine can be.
What is the Tasting Challenge? The challenge is a way to improve your wine palate each week with 34 wines from 12 countries — The Wine Tasting Challenge.
Tasting Challenge: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
The rivalry between the Sauvignon Blanc of the Old World versus New Zealand is intense. Okay, maybe it isn’t exactly “fighting in the street: there can be only one” intense, but the line in the sand has definitely been drawn.
Part of this has to do with the sheer volume that the Kiwis are growing, over 60,000 acres (24,000 hectares) of Sauvignon Blanc in an area roughly the size of Oregon.
So if you’re going to familiarize yourself with Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand is basically impossible to ignore.
With that in mind, we went with the region that New Zealand is arguably the best known for: Marlborough. It’s the sort of place you can find wine of every quality and price level, but always screams New Zealand.
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To top that off, we found a 2020 vintage! That’s about as fresh as you can get right now, though hopefully it won’t taste like this year has felt.
2020 Kia Ora Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
Look: Pale straw
Aromas: Gooseberry, kiwi, grass, honeydew, chopped herbs, guava, chamomile, grapefruit, and a hint of bell pepper.
On The Palate: The greenest citrus ever! Almost equal parts grapefruit and grapefruit peel. A bitter herb quality, very grassy. Hint of peach on the finish.
Food Pairing: Immediately thought of the Pad Thai I’d recently had for dinner and mourned the fact that there wasn’t any left. Goat cheese would be outstanding. Not to mention fresh seafood
What We Learned About Sauvignon Blanc
There is a lot going on in the glass with Sauvignon Blanc. At first, the New Zealand style of big fruit hits you in the face and you assume that’s all there is to it.
And then the green kicks in. Bitter herbs and grassy notes that make you think you ate a grapefruit, along with its leaves, stem, and maybe some of the tree’s bark.
It makes you think of the notes you often get in Caribbean cooking: pungent herbs surrounded by the fullness of tropical fruit. On paper, you figure it shouldn’t work, but it all blends together so beautifully.
That ripe fruit is a big part of what makes people adore New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
It’s far more boisterous and flashy than the more subtle, cold-climate styles you’ll find from France’s Loire region, for example. Which would explain why the dividing line between Old World and New World fans is so distinct.
Either way, you’re dealing with a unique grape that brings both the fruit and the rind in equal measure.
This is another one of those wines that we recommend to people who are beginners. It’s big and friendly like a Golden Retriever. But when you stop and really pay attention, it has the complexity to match. So, like a Golden Retriever who can play chess.
Which is pretty cool.
Can’t find a wine? You don’t have to try exactly the same wine, so if you’re looking for alternatives to keep your challenge rolling, you can search options at Wine Access.
So what Sauvignon Blanc did you taste this week? Did you break ranks and try something from France? What about South Africa – they’ve got some great examples, too! Tell us about the notes in the comments below.