Winemaking in New Zealand goes back all the way to its colonial era in the mid-1800s, when Anglican missionary Samuel Marsden first planted grapevines at the Bay of Islands in 1819. But it was really in the 1970s that New Zealand’s winemaking industry took off in a big way; in 1990 the value of New Zealand’s wine exports was NZ$18 million but by 2015 has skyrocketed to over NZ$1.5 billion. Much of that success is attributed to just one grape varietal – the Sauvignon Blanc.
Sauvignon Blanc, a green-skinned grape varietal that traces its origins back to France’s Loire Valley and Bordeaux wine regions, was first planted in Marlborough on New Zealand’s South Island in the late 1970s. For some reason the grape took very well to New Zealand’s terroir, whose cool climate was tailor made for white grape varieties.
But Sauvignon Blanc not only thrived there, but developed a distinctive character of its own that was widely considered by critics to be both excellent in quality and rather unlike those grown anywhere else in the world. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc tended to produce wines exuding tropical fruit-like flavours with herbaceous character; gooseberry was a common flavour characteristic, especially in Sauvignon Blancs that hails from South Island. So unique was the profile that well-known British wine critic Oz Clarke even declared in the 1990s that New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was “arguably the best in the world”.
With such accolades surrounding New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, it was inevitable that the world took notice and the ensuing demand cemented the varietal and style as the country’s flagship wine. Today Sauvignon Blanc grows in all but one of New Zealand’s ten wine growing regions, comprising of around 70% of the country’s area under vine. More importantly – for New Zealand Wine and the country’s economy – it comprises over 80% of New Zealand exported wines.
Singapore is a huge export market for New Zealand wines, its largest in Southeast Asia. In the year leading up to March 2015, wine exports from New Zealand to Singapore saw a staggering growth of a 26.7% increase in export value, a testament to growing international popularity for New Zealand wine. Sauvignon Blanc, as you can imagine, would comprise much of that value.
Home of New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc: Marlborough.
The Marlborough wine region of New Zealand on its South Island is home to nearly 60% of all of the country’s grape vines and today produces over 77% of the country’s total wine production. The sheer volume of wine produced here is the key reason why Marlborough is considered the key flagship wine region from New Zealand; it’s also the reason why wines from Marlborough are most recognised. They are probably the most dominant of all wine regions from ‘The Land of the Long White Cloud’ on shop shelves around the world.
But while Montana Wines – today it is known as Brancott Estate – is credited to produce the first New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc of note in the 1970s, it is really Cloudy Bay that defined the original New Zealand style of Sauvignon Blanc with its intensely herbaceous, mineral and tropical fruit notes that cemented the style’s popularity in this part of the world. By the early 2000s, Cloudy Bay’s Sauvignon Blanc was commonly found on supermarket shelves in overseas markets like here in Singapore.
If you’re new to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and are looking to try some, the most convenient place to pick them up is supermarket chain Cold Storage. During a recent fair jointly organised by Cold Storage and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, the grocery chain unveiled a wide variety of wines from New Zealand, most of them Sauvignon Blanc from Malborough. But you could just as easily step into any of their outlets where you can find a decent range of Sauvignon Blanc to choose from.
Here are some of the ones we recommend (prices provided by Cold Storage):
Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($44.80)
The first New Zealand winery to widely plant Sauvignon Blanc on a commercial basis, Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc displays characteristic grapefruit and tropical fruit aromas, with bright lemony flavours and crisp acidity.
Matua Sauvignon Blanc ($38.60)
First produced in 1974, this award-winning winery produces a Sauvignon Blanc that exhibits fresh herbal notes in sage and mint supported by gooseberry and fresh-cut pineapple. The palate features citrus and pineapple flavours with a lingering acidity.
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc ($49.90)
The New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc producer that helped establish the style’s popularity around the world, Cloudy Bay’s Sauvignon Blanc exudes aromatic grapefruit and lime notes, backed by a palate rife with lemongrass and stone fruit with an overarching fresh minerality.
Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc ($48.00)
Winemaker Kevin Judd used to make wine at Cloudy Bay for 25 years, and Greywacke – named after New Zealand’s signature bedrock – is his personal Marlborough label. His Sauvignon Blanc is heavy with wet grass, gooseberry and green pepper on the nose, while gooseberry and white flowers dominate the palate with a medium-plus acidity.
Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc ($43.00)
Villa Maria’s Sauvignon Blanc has seen explosive demand since its introduction into Singapore in 2012, and no wonder – it’s bursting with aromas of passionfruit, kaffir lime and gooseberry. It is powerful and juicy, displaying vibrant grapefruit notes with a balanced structure and acidity.