Bad weather hit New Zealand again. But other Sauvignon Blancs are available

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is one of the most commercially successful wines. Professionals can be a little pretentious about its simplicity and, often, slight sweetness, but wine drinkers everywhere tend to love it.

For growers, it has the happy advantages of being made from a productive type of grape and being ready to sell within weeks of harvest. Without the need for heavy investment in oak barrels or ageing, these wines can be found from around £8 a bottle in the UK. British outlets sell twice as much Sauvignon Blanc as Chardonnay.

Marlborough, birthplace of Cloudy Bay in the north of the South Island, is the heart of Sauvignon. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc constitutes 67% of all New Zealand wines. Great Britain took to it in the late 1980s, then the United States, so much so that it imports more wine from tiny New Zealand than from Australia, which produces more than four times more.

Exports soared until the 2021 vintage, when they fell by a fifth. It was Marlborough’s smallest harvest in six years, the result of spring frosts and a summer so dry the berries lacked juice. Last year, New Zealand’s wine industry suffered its first drop in export value in 26 years.

As a result, there has been a huge shortage of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and it was hoped that the 2022 crop, picked last month, would replenish supplies. But the vintage was again affected by problematic weather. La Niña brought troublesome rains as the grapes ripened, in some cases forcing an early picking.

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Another problem was the lack of seasonal foreign labor due to the country’s strict isolation rules, exacerbated by the sudden spike in Covid-19 cases in the middle of the harvest. Winemakers had some particularly stressful decisions to make, including how to stay healthy.

It’s too early to tell precisely how many 2022 Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs were produced in total, but you can be sure the winemakers did their best, and in the meantime, it shouldn’t be hard to find alternatives. Moreover, the success of Marlborough Sauvignon has inspired producers on the other side of the world – even in the Loire Valley, home to the classic (but generally more expensive) Sauvignons of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé – to copy the spicy and aromatic style launched in Marlborough. .

One of the regions offering the best value for a brilliantly crisp (but not insignificant) Sauvignon Blanc is Touraine, the vineyards around the Loire town of Tours. I was particularly impressed recently with the 2020 from Bonnigal-Bodet, imported to the UK by H2Vin with a suggested retail price of £12.50. It is widely available in France from €8.20.

Meanwhile, Sauvignon Blanc is the most important white grape variety in Bordeaux, where it is increasingly easy to find interesting and well-priced examples. One of these is Dourthe No 1, whose 2020 vintage is currently on offer at The Wine Society for £8.50.

Another established source of fine Sauvignon in the Northern Hemisphere is Southern Styria, or Südsteiermark, in southeastern Austria. Polz, Sattlerhof and Tement are reliable names and the wines here are elegant with some flowery notes. Germany’s Pfalz region is also building up a reputation for its smoky Sauvignons, with examples of Oliver Zeter not too hard to find in the UK for under £20, around the same price as Styrians.

Interesting Sauvignons are popping up in the most unlikely places. I was impressed with the quality of the taut but not austere Tetramythos, Natur 2021 from the Greek mainland (£24 from The Sourcing Table). Romania and Moldova have large tracts of land planted with Sauvignon Blanc. Laithwaite’s is selling Babele 2021 for £8.99 made by Cramele Recas in Romania (whose owner, by the way, reports a 65% increase in the cost of bottles since January thanks to the effects of war on glass factories in Ukraine and in Russia).

The Southern Hemisphere can offer a whole range of value-for-money Sauvignon Blancs, particularly South Africa and also Chile, where Sauvignon Blanc is by far the most widely planted white grape variety. Chilean giant Concha y Toro recently launched Casillero del Diablo, Reserva Especial 2021 from an exposed vineyard in Colchagua, not too far from the ocean, specifically to fill the void left by the shortage of Marlborough Sauvignon. (Oddly enough, the wine reminded me more of an example of Sancerre than an example of Kiwi.) For £9 at Tesco and £10 at Ocado, it’s definitely worth a try.

The attributes of unoaked Sauvignon Blanc are an almost coarsely powerful aroma, fresh fruit and relatively high acidity. If it gets too ripe it loses those qualities, so it needs a cooler site than, say, Chardonnay. The best Chilean Sauvignons come from vineyards cooled by the Pacific, with the Casablanca Valley as the main source. Casablanca Sauvignons from Casas del Bosque are generally better than most, and the 2021 Reserva offered by De Burgh Wine Merchants in Scotland at just £9.99 is a safe bet.

Ignacio Recabarren and Morandé are other reliable producers of well-priced Casablanca Sauvignon Blanc with a long history of this valley just north of Valparaíso. The San Antonio coast and its Leyda enclave are also cool enough to produce a very refreshing Sauvignon Blanc.

But I tend to find a little more interest in the best South African Sauvignon Blancs. Recently, I presented a tasting of wines I considered underrated to members of the new 67 Pall Mall Wine Club in Singapore. The group’s favorite was also by far the cheapest: the 2018 Lismore’s Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc. Maturity: Niepoort Batuta and Domaine A Cabernet Sauvignon from Tasmania.) This truly beautiful, beautifully serious wine has the texture of a beautiful white Burgundy and costs less than £20 a bottle from Fintry Wines in Essex.

Two serious Cape specialists in sauvignon blanc are Klein Constantia on the outskirts of Cape Town and Iona in chilly Elgin on the south coast. Iona’s 2021 Sauvignon was also barrel-fermented and yet is sold in the UK for less than £15 a bottle – a bargain.

I recently tasted the first vintage of Iona Sauvignon, 2001, a 21 year old wine that was still very much alive. Klein Constantia winemaker Matt Day is dedicated to Sauvignon Blanc, having trained with the innovative Pascal Jolivet in Sancerre. He does very special bottlings, usually with oak involved.

But the more typical South African Sauvignon Blancs are unoaked and therefore less expensive. De Grendel’s 2021 from vineyards around Cape Town is well worth seeking out and costs just £11.99 at Waitrose.

Much of Australia is too hot to produce a sufficiently pungent Sauvignon Blanc, but there are still parts of Adelaide Hills that can deliver. Shaw + Smith is a top and reliable producer, with the 2020 vintage particularly promising. It is widely available and costs from £15.35 in the UK. Murdoch Hill’s 2021, also from Adelaide Hills, is another hit. That said, Australian wines in the UK seem relatively expensive at the moment.

An exception to the “Australia is too hot for Sauvignon” rule can also be made for Tasmania. Coincidentally, one of my all-time favorite Sauvignons was made by Peter Althaus, founder of Domaine A (producer of the Cabernet mentioned above). He recently sold his distinctive Tasmanian winery, but hopefully the new regime will continue to produce the delicately oaked, long-lasting Lady A Sauvignon Blanc. Roundness is not usually a desirable attribute in a Sauvignon, and Lady A is delightfully slender.

Which means California may struggle to produce sauvignons with real sass. That said, Sauvignons like Eisele Vineyard and Rudd Estate have an impressive track record – at a price.

Overall, there is a wide choice of alternatives to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, although the prototype becomes more interesting and complex with each vintage, challenging as that vintage has been for producers.

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