New Zealand sauvignon blancs have taken it on the chin in recent years, or so it would seem. Once the tart, fruity darling of the Anything But Chardonnay crowd, these days I find many folks turn up their noses at the mere mention of New Zealand’s iconic wine.
Of course, others swear by kiwi sauvignon blancs. Wine sales from New Zealand, especially sauvignon blancs, continue their 30-year spiral upward. New Zealand’s winemaking association reports a 22 percent increase from 2009 to 2013 amounting to $1.2 billion in export sales. Over the past 10 years, vineyard acreage has just about doubled.
So, somebody’s drinking this wine.
As with so many things in this polarized world, it is neither as dire nor as sunny as some would have you believe.
The biggest knock against New Zealand sauvignon blancs is their sameness—year in, year out and from one maker to the next. Detractors also deride them as fruit cocktail in a glass. Many do indeed share a melon-like quality and a subtle sweetness that is miles away from the steely, mineral-laced wines from Sancerre—sauvignon blanc’s ancestral home in France’s Loire Valley.
And there is truth within this viewpoint. The New Zealand wine industry suffers from a commercial conservatism that puts stock into not screwing up a good thing. Its motto: give fickle consumers what they want and—for goodness sake—do not taking any risks. Where’s the excitement in that?
Naturally, there are exceptions. In recent months, I’ve tried Villa Maria’s single vineyard selections, Drylands, Matua Valley “Paretai” and Kim Crawford “Spitfire” sauvignon blancs and loved every one of them. With the exception of Drylands, these wines are priced between $25 and $50 per bottle.
And as much as I’d like to hold these wines in the faces of some critics, I prefer to ask the less obvious question: What’s wrong with a little industrial sameness?
Life’s too short to drink bad wine. Yes, I’ve heard this expression a million times. I’d like to counter with the observation that life’s too short to spend a half a day obsessing about a wine selection.
In a perfect world, each new glass of wine we hold in our hands would be better than the last and everything would be served in the crystalline stemware designed specifically for that particular wine. If you live in that world, please invite me over sometime.
As much as New Zealand wines, in general, display a mono-dimensionalness, there are not too many stinkers in the bunch either. How handy is that information when you’re running into your wine shop to grab a couple of bottles as you head up to the mountains for a weekend getaway?
New Zealand sauvignon blancs may not get much respect among professional wine critics and non-professional, whiny cynics, but I’d hate to see them disappear from the landscape. They may not be the most sincere wines in the world, but they are among the safest.
Gil Kulers is a sommelier and maitre d’ for an Atlanta country club. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Wines are rated on a scale ranging up from Thumbs Down, One Thumb Mostly Up, One Thumb Up, Two Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Way Up and Golden Thumb Award. Prices are suggested retail prices as provided by the winery, one of its agents, a local distributor or retailer.
— Gil Kulers, AJC Drink blog