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Killer Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc

Northside Staff
Tasters: Dave Pohl, ed., Dana Malley, Kelley O’Neill, Jason Wentworth, Chris Coronel, Jay Reed, Travis Mordus
Guest taster: Johannes Reinhardt

Most wine drinkers associate New Zealand with the vinous product of its most widely planted grape variety, Sauvignon Blanc. The ascendancy of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, however, is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Phylloxera, the louse responsible for the devastation of European vineyards in the mid-nineteenth century, was discovered in New Zealand in 1895. In Europe the response had been to graft European grape vines to phylloxera resistant rootstock. Grape growers in New Zealand instead planted phylloxera resistant hybrid and native American (labrusca) varieties. (The labrusca grape Isabella was once New Zealand’s most widely planted variety.)

Recent decades saw many of these varieties replaced by more fashionable varieties such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, which were grafted to hybrid rootstock. Additionally, vineyards were planted in new regions such as Marlborough. The first vines were planted there in 1973, and by 2007 Marlborough’s vineyards had grown to 27,000 acres!

This remarkable surge was largely due to the nearly instant success of Marlborough’s Sauvignon Blancs, which were receiving international critical acclaim by the early 1980s. Increased exports followed with Great Britain being the largest buyer. Today, Australia, Japan, and the U.S. are also important markets. In 2005 exports to the U.S. totaled 1.45 million cases, of which more than two-thirds was Sauvignon Blanc.

The Northside Wine & Spirits staff recently blind tasted 25 New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, nearly all from Marlborough. Almost all were well made, and many revealed the grapefruit aroma and flavor typical of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. A good number of the wines had small amounts of residual sugar, a counterpoint to their tangy acidity.

The tasters’ favorite wine was the Kim Crawford 2010 Sauvignon Blanc ($17). Its explosive aroma is redolent of grapefruit and melon. The flavor reflects the nose, and brisk acidity adds liveliness to the wine’s long finish. This extroverted Sauvignon Blanc will pair nicely with shellfish, tangy tomato sauces, spring asparagus, and spicy Thai curries, be they green, red, or yellow!

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