I almost feel as though 2021 is the year when Marlborough re-discovered its soul. Too many recent vintages, particularly of Sauvignon Blanc, have yielded too many rather aimless wines that seemed unsure of what they were trying to achieve, or wines that seemed almost perversely determined to deny the fabulously enticing fruit quality that wine lovers around the world crave in Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Had Marlborough lost confidence in itself to do what it can do so brilliantly – produce the best, snappiest, most tingling and scented Sauvignon in the world?
Well, nature gives and nature takes away. 2021 Sauvignons are truly delicious. But there aren’t enough bottles to go around. New Zealand has been suffering from climate change like everyone else, and the already dry Marlborough region has had three drought years in a row. You might say – oh, but they can irrigate, the Wairau aquifer is one of the most plentiful in the world. Up to a point. You’ve got to have water coming off the hills and mountains upstream to fill the aquifer. This supply has been under increasing threat for some years, although, thankfully, 2021 wasn’t too bad. But there are many parts of Marlborough desperately dependent on irrigation. As the flows drop in rivers like the Wairau and Awatere, it becomes ever more difficult to access extra water and raise a decent crop.
But that’s a long term challenge. 2021 had more immediate issues. The world was already complaining in 2020 that there wasn’t enough Sauvignon to go around. So what we didn’t need was icy cold nights and frosts in September and even October, which hammered some vineyards quite badly, some less so.
Come December you want warm settled weather for your vines to flower and set a good crop of grapes. This didn’t happen. Erratic weather and cold nights meant that the flowering was all over the place, and bunches were very irregular.
So you know the number of berries on the vine is going to be compromised. What you then don’t want is a droughty, windy summer which means the berries you do have are going to be small and low on juice. And 2021 was Marlborough’s 3rd consecutive year of drought. All of which meant a ridiculously early harvest, but there’ll be about 40% less Marlborough Sauvignon on sale from 2021.
Any good news? Yes. The stuff’s fantastic. It’s not often I say – rush out and buy some Sauvignon before the stocks run out – but this year you’ll have to. Stocks of the best wines WILL run out. Once people try one bottle they’ll be leaping for their credit cards to secure more. And technically you could age quite a few of these, but take one more gulp of these gorgeous liquids and you’ll be saying – why would I want to?
On the evening of Tuesday 8th February Oz is hosted an ‘Appellation Marlborough Wine Discovery Virtual Tasting’. You can view the recording of the session here.
Dog Point Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2018
Putting New Zealand’s most astute vineyard expert together with one of the country’s best winemakers was always going to work. And so it has proved. Since 2004 Dog Point have released a cavalcade of enticing wines, sometimes re-defining what was possible in Marlborough. Section 94 is such a wine. Not many people make a success of this barrel-fermented and -aged style, but in the tricky 2018 vintage this is a triumph. Intriguing pink apple and grainy peach skin fruit seems to be sprinkled with summer country meadow dust, and wrapped in a bone-dry fudge of toasted hazelnuts, crips black chocolate and Kenya coffee beans. Super winemaking from one of New Zealand’s greats.
Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc 2021
More than any other winery Astrolabe have demonstrated to me the sheer excitement of Awatere fruit. Above all, they have revelled in the joys of green flavours, nature’s colour of freshness, of uplifting acidity and springtime bloom. This is packed with 2021 ripeness but it’s a brilliant juicy ripeness of green apple flesh, grapefruit and lime leaves, made richer by a wild combo of marrow jam and white peach and its bracing acidity glamourized by fresh-plucked hillside herb aromas.
Blind River Sauvignon Blanc 2021
Another of my Awatere favourites, from vineyards well to the south and close to the sea. This gives you a slingshot of green flavours which bounce from green figs and green apples to angelica, mint leaf and sage. A little barrel fermentation softens it, but this is still glorious, snappy, scented Awatere at its best.
Blank Canvas Holdaway Vineyard Dillons Point Sauvignon Blanc 2021
Matt Thompson was the first person to extol the virtues of Dillons Point to me, that silty, unpromising-looking, boggy lowland out towards the mouth of the Wairau River. I was immediately struck by how the Dillons Point wines held on to the freshness and zesty perfume of their fruit even in hot years. Well, Dillons Point is much more heavily planted nowadays, I’m pleased to say, and 2021 has produced a clutch of brilliant wines from different estates. This one manages to marry glittering, mouthwatering acidity with enticing passion fruit, grapefruit and yellow peach depth, a dusty, savoury undertow, and superbly teasing sage, lime leaf and apple blossom scent.
Mahi Sauvignon Blanc 2021
It’s 20 years since Brian and Nicola Bicknell created Mahi Winery, and I’m not sure Brian has ever made a better Mahi Sauvignon. He is an inventive yet minimalist winemaker and this wine has a soaring, glorious green acidity, with peppercorn and capsicum to tickle your palate. It’s worth opening this wine for an hour to let the fruit and barrel richness marry into its juicy apple and grapefruit core, its saline undertow, and the increasingly beguiling apple blossom scent.
Nautilus Sauvignon Blanc 2021
I’ve been visiting Nautilus ever since my first trip to New Zealand, and I’ve always enjoyed the wines. But I think their range of 2021s may be their best yet. Beautifully ripe and tasting of guava and pineapple chunks, that 2021 magic kicks straight in with mint leaf and passionfruit-scented acidity and a wonderful chewy sensation like the rough-chopped skins of tropical fruit.
Oz also tasted through a further selection and his scores for each plus links to the producer and UK stockists and RRP are listed below…
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