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International Sauvignon Blanc Day – Nelson Mail 02.05.17

It seems every sector of the wine industry has something to promote, be it wineries promoting gold medal and trophy successes, new release wines, celebration events for wines of particular regions or commercial events promoting anything from wines in general to a specific variety there is always something to celebrate in the wonderful world of wine.

There are two events and one celebration coming up in the next few weeks; first off the block is International Sauvignon Blanc Day on Friday (5th May) then we have Game of Rhones on the 13th May in Auckland or 20th May in Wellington followed by Winetopia in Auckland on the 9th – 10th June and Wellington on the 14th – 15th July.

International Sauvignon Blanc Day is a day that celebrates and promotes the New Zealand wine industry’s single most important grape variety; making up about 85% of wines exported and accounting for $1.3 billion of the industry’s $1.61 billion export earnings, Sauvignon Blanc is without doubt the backbone of the industry in this country.

I have to admit that while it is hugely important I don’t usually choose it as wine to enjoy with a meal, I think it is because I taste so much Sauvignon Blanc I find it hard to get excited about it in the same way consumers overseas do.

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc wines account for about 80% of all wine grape plantings and when every producer is trying to produce a wine with the same exciting flavours it can be a bit boring but the variety does offer a huge amount of variation, particularly when winemakers do more than just fermenting it in stainless steel tanks, and those wines do excite me.

Sauvignon Blanc also delivers different characters and flavours in different regions, the most drastic comparison would be its spiritual home in the region of Sancere, France where the wines are soft and complex with Marlborough where it delivers bright, zingy flavours other regions in the world have been trying to replicate with a modest amount of success.

Within New Zealand regional climate conditions also impact on the flavours of Sauvignon Blanc, in the Nelson region the variety delivers those familiar bright gooseberry and tropical fruit characters but with acidity that is noticeably friendlier than Marlborough versions, simply because of the growing conditions.

The fact there is so much Sauvignon Blanc grown in New Zealand many producers are trying to find something that makes their version stand out from the crowd, and that is where winemakers get to have a little play time.

The most common method winemakers turn to is fermenting and aging all of some of the wine in oak barrels, usually older barrels so the barrels add a roundness and complexity to the flavours and mouthfeel rather than smacking you around the head with a plank of oak.

Spencer Hill Wines have only ever made Sauvignon Banc using gentle oak influence (oak aged Sauvignon Blanc’s are often called Fumé Blanc) and winemaker Jules Randall is continuing to explore the variety by using different winemaking techniques.

Brightwater Vineyards have been making a Barrique Fermented Sauvignon Blanc for a couple of years and their version retains those very familiar Sauvignon Blanc flavours but has a rounded mouthfeel with juicy acidity in the finish rather than that searing acidity we often see in Marlborough versions.

At Mahana winemaker Michael Glover is moving as far away from classic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc as he can; as he says “why try and make a copy of another regions wines, I want to make the best wine I can from our vineyards and they aren’t in Marlborough so don’t expect our Sauvignon to taste like a Marlborough wine.”

Using winemaking techniques like fermenting the juice while soaking on the grape skins rather than fermenting just the juice adds complexity to the wine while leaving the fermented wine to sit on the yeast lees after fermentation adds another layer of complexity.

Other producers, like Blackenbrook Vineyards for example, rely on beautifully clean and very ripe fruit to produce a wine where the purity of the Nelson grown fruit shines; the fruit is allowed more time in the sun for the acids in the grapes to ripen so these wines have soft, juicy acidity making them delightfully easy to drink.

In Nelson just under 50% of all vineyard plantings are Sauvignon Blanc so while the region is very well known for producing stunningly good Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Pinot Gris Sauvignon Blanc is still the most important variety here too.

So to celebrate the importance of this single variety to the New Zealand wine industry New Zealand Winegrowers are promoting International Sauvignon Blanc Day; Chris Yorke, Global Marketing Director at New Zealand Winegrowers says “If you’re a Sauvignon Blanc fanatic, then we encourage you to join the online conversation and post video clips, photographs and messages that salute New Zealand’s most well-known wine.”

“We think New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is a success story worth celebrating, so on May 5 raise a glass to the wine that put New Zealand on the map.”

You can follow the activity on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram by using the hashtags #SauvBlanc and #nzwine.

Harbour Light Bistro on Wakefield Quay has designed a three course set menu dinner ($80) with a different style of Sauvignon Blanc matched with each course, including a dessert Sauvignon Blanc and I think that would be the perfect place to take a photo of your bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to share with the rest of the world.

Two other events promoting wine, Game of Rhones and Winetopia, are commercial events that offer the chance to taste a range of wines from premium producers in one place.

“Game of Rhones is the celebration of the great grape varieties of the Rhone Valley. Think Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvedre and more (with the odd splashes of white wine for good measure) from some of the best wine producers in Australia, New Zealand and beyond. This combative celebration sees country versus country, regions vs region and producer vs producer with you, the people, deciding if there is one wine to rule them all.”

Winetopia claims to be New Zealand’s largest wine tasting event, and it may be so in Auckland where about 60 wineries will have wines for tasting but according to their website the Wellington event only has about half the number of participants however you can still “taste your way through some of New Zealand’s best wines, from all regions across New Zealand under the one roof.” Winetopia is presented by Singapore Airlines and “gives you the opportunity to try hundreds of wines, and meet many winemakers and experts from rock star brands to cheeky boutiques”.

Winetopia also has master classes available with experts like Bob Campbell, Nick Stock and Stephen Wong so check out

Both of these events are worth travelling to, I will be going to Winetopia in Auckland, so book your event tickets, airfares and accommodation early, especially if you want to go to the Auckland events.

I have been writing a regular wine column for The Nelson Mail newspaper since 2000.

Unfortunately the column space is not big enough to include my thoughts on all of the many wines I taste. Hopefully this blog will fix that. It also gives me somewhere to archive the many columns I write. I will also include some favourite recipes from my dearly beloved who loves cooking and of course because wine and food simply go together. I will also point you in the direction of upcoming events and websites I think are great. Enjoy, Neil

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