My go-to countries when I want a sauvignon blanc these days are Chile, New Zealand and South Africa. In general I find they make very similar wines, with a slight edge for me going to New Zealand for exuberance and Chile when I want a zesty youthful sort of edge.
If you want to understand why I drink New Zealand sauvignon blanc you need to pick up a bottle of Villa Maria. They are the template around which an industry has grown. The bouquet was slightly herbaceous, the palate grassy with a nice balance of crisp citrus flavours and acidity. This is a superbly made wine that sticks very much to the original idea of Sancerre. (and BTW watch for their more expensive reserve/gold label wines. They surface across the prairies usually around the $30 mark and are absolutely brilliant wines.)
A new entry here on the shelves is Matua Valley and from Hawkes Bay at that. Hawkes Bay is an appellation I’m on the watch for constantly. We don’t see much of their wines here, as the Brits tend to snap them up. They specialize in Bordeaux clones and an absolutely wonderful version of syrah: if you spot any of these wines jump on them. I saw and drank some whites when there three years ago but the reds were so stunningly fabulous I don’t really remember any but a couple whites.
The original bouquet when freshly opened was a little sulphurous, but this cleared off fast once exposed to the air. It was slightly lighter than the Villa Maria, in both colour and bouquet. The palate was quite crisp but less lemony, and the finish more astringent. I quite liked that last boot of celery as the wine is swallowed, but the lack of character at the front of the palate will likely keep me looking for Hawkes Bay reds.
Aresti, a Chilean wine was a disappointment. The wine kept that crisp acidity I look for but it seemed to be lacking balance. Somehow the grapefruit flavours I associate with Chilean wines were missing, almost as if I was drinking a fairly pure wine vinegar. This is doubly surprising as I quite enjoyed the Aresti Assemblage red I reviewed recently.
Santa Carolina, another Chilean wine was my favourite of the tasting. The bouquet was wonderful, full of herbs and citrus and a touch of flowers. The palate was crisp, with a touch of asparagus and basil and the finish with lovely grapefruit astringency I seek in SB.
Durbanville Hills was also hit with the curse of the initially sulphurous bouquet. Again it cleared off quite quickly once opened, but the wine seemed out of balance. It was a little sweeter than Kiwi and Chilean versions with more of a pineapple characteristic than grapefruit. I imagine this will appeal to any number of drinkers but the structure of the wine seemed clumsy to me. Of these wines it is on the cheaper side but not enough for me to endorse the wine.
I included two Canadian versions out of curiosity as much as because I thought they belonged. They were in contrast to the other countries somewhat bland. On the other hand this appeals to me in any number of situations.
Mission Hill Sauvignon Blanc I wrote about last fall, and I still have great affection for this wine. If you’re looking for more of a palate smash I understand as I often am too, but there is a tremendous delicacy to this wine, and the slightly lighter palate allows the floral flavours and bouquet to flourish.
Jackson-Triggs SB is I think one of the most under-rated wines in the country. The wine is lovely. Delicate, with flavours of nectarines, peaches and Granny Smith apples, it is an absolutely first class drink. Note that it is the cheapest wine of the tasting too.
So did I come to a conclusion? Yes, with some misgiving about generalizing. New Zealand is still the exuberant SB we all discovered in the ‘90s. South Africa tends to a slightly sweeter style. Chile towards grapefruit flavours, and Canada to a delicacy that is completely different. The other rather off-putting discovery is the growing tendency toward a sulfurous nose, which may indicate this grape’s day in the sun is almost over.
Alternatively it may indicate a problem with screw top closures… more on closure technology later.
Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc, 2012, New Zealand, 2012. $20 ****
Sauvignon Blanc Matua Valley, 2012, New Zealand, 2012. $19 ****
Santa Carolina Ocean Sides Sauvignon Blanc, Chile $18 ****
Aresti Sauvignon Blanc, Chile $15 ***
Durbanville Hills, Sauvignon Blanc, South Africa, 2011. $16 ***
Jackson-Triggs Sauvignon Blanc, Okanagan Canada, 2011. $15 ****
Mission Hill Sauvignon Blanc, Okanagan Canada, 2011. $20 ****