The Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2021 exemplifies an exceptional vintage for Marlborough despite a challenging, low-yielding harvest year.
You know it’s been a good harvest year in Marlborough, New Zealand when its most prominent Sauvignon Blanc producer, Cloudy Bay, hypes up its latest vintage. It’s also a great year when Cloudy Bay breaks out Te Koko, its wild-fermented, barrel-aged Sauvignon Blanc that year. But when the stars align and both happen, you know it’s going to be a truly rewarding one for fans of Cloudy Bay and Sauvignon Blanc.
This year, 2021, is one such year. Last month the New Zealand winery released both the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2021 and Te Koko Sauvignon Blanc 2019 at the same time, the first time ever it has done so.
Cloudy Bay viticulturist John Flanagan says that the 2021 vintage was “something to behold”, and even better than the remarkable 2019 one. “I can’t remember a vintage like this in my viticultural career,” he says. “It had the lower yields of 2012 but way better ripening conditions. It had the low rainfall of 2015 and 2019 but, not the same heat, which meant that fruit could achieve optimum flavour and acid/sugar balance on the vine.”
The good news comes after Marlborough producers ironically confirmed earlier this year that the 2021 harvest will be a small one, with yields severely impacted by extreme spring frosts and poor flowering even though the weather rebounded later. According to New Zealand Winegrowers, this year’s crop is down 19% from 2020, with the Wairarapa, Marlborough, Nelson, and North Canterbury bearing the brunt of the drop.
But everyone agrees it’s an extraordinary vintage.
And the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2021 certainly exemplifies that. The warm dry season that came after the damaging frost was a boon, concentrating an amazing fruit intensity that comes through in the wine. Expect an explosion of tropical fruit in mango, pineapple, passionfruit and calamansi in the nose, with the usual assertive gooseberry notes of a typical Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc uncharacteristically lurking in the background, while aromatic kaffir lime and lemongrass adding a layer of complexity. This tropical theme carries through to the palate, with a crisp, refreshing medium finish.
Then there’s the Te Koko 2019. Now Cloudy Bay only releases Te Koko on good years – the past two years didn’t see a release – and the 2019 was a great one. Te Koko is an unusual treatment for a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc; barrel-aging of Sauvignon Blanc is far more common in California and Bordeaux, after all, while wild fermentation tends to be the domain of smaller, more experimental boutique wineries.
The fruit itself was sourced from six of Cloudy Bay’s Sauvignon Blanc vineyards located within the Rapaura, Brancott, and Renwick sub-regions. Barrel-aging in French oak barrels gives the wine heft, while spontaneous fermentation adds layered complexity. Here the Te Koko 2019 offers a melange of stone fruit and citrus notes on the bouquet, overlaid with subtle oak and wood spice. On the palate is sweet citrus in grapefruit and mandarin orange with touches of unripe peach, with sweet wood spices like cinnamon and cardamom, while the finish is rich and enduring, more akin to a classic Californian Chardonnay than any New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
“After not making Te Koko for the last two vintages, it was important that we were able to not only make a 2019 Te Koko but make it a great example of this wine,” Flanagan says. “I think we’ve achieved that in spades, with a dense and powerful wine that honours the vision of the original winemaking team who dreamt of making a Sauvignon Blanc with a difference.”
What we’re really looking forward to? The Te Koko 2021. While we’re likely to see a Te Koko from 2020 considering a good harvest last year, one from the exceptional 2021 harvest is likely to be a smashing winner. We’re calling it.
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