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Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Villa Maria Private Bin First Release Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, 2011

If the history of white wine fashions of the last few decades were summed up in a few words, they would be oaky Chardonnay, kiwi Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio.

Kiwi Sauvignon then is not just something of a modern classic, but a marketing case study of how one benchmark style of wine (ripe, tropical, buttery oaked Chardonnay) quickly fell out of fashion to be replaced by something quite different - thrilling, zesty, in-yer-face Sauvignon, often from Marlborough at the top of New Zealand's South Island (see map).

Before Marlborough, Sauvignon's spiritual home was either the cool-climate Loire - producing steely, smokey, minerally versions that need food, especially the local goat's cheese - or Bordeaux where it was somewhat overshadowed by the local red and dessert wines.

Sauvignon, then, has always been a class act but it was also always somehow "lesser" than the two Great Whites, Chardonnay and Riesling and - whisper it - might have been a bit of a one-trick pony.

Kiwi Sauvignon changed all that - just as New World chardies were becoming ever oakier, sweeter and more monolithic, along it came with a vibrant freshness and lots of aromatic, herbaceous, gooseberry and nettley aromas.

Technically well made, it combined warm-climate aromas and approachability with a dash of cool-climate food-friendliness, often achieved through harvesting grapes at different stages of ripeness.

In short, Marlborough Sauvignon is as classic and genre-defining as the VW Golf and has spawned almost as many imitators around the world. But just as the Golf is still a mid-sized box on wheels, so Marlborough Sauvignon is perhaps constrained by its success to be a particular type of tropical, aromatic, zesty white wine.

So, feeling the weight of oenological history upon me, I open up this latest sample from the multi award-winning Villa Maria.

In the glass it is almost colourless with just a hint of gold. There is an intense nose of gooseberry, passionfruit and a distinct hint of Galia melon skin.

The palate has all the up-front herbaceous, nettley aromas I have come to expect with melon, citrus and lots of mouthwateringly ripe, juicy, tropical fruit acidity.

The finish shows a balance of acidity, residual sweetness and minerality -presumably the result of the grapes being picked at differing levels of ripeness over a period of five weeks, giving both high acidity at one end and ripe sweetness at the other.

It feels clean, well-made, approachable and familiar and, if you're new to kiwi Sauvignon, this is as good a place as any to start.

However, for me, I can't help feeling I've seen this movie before - and however good it is (and it is good), it's all rather familiar, predictable and overworked, leaving me wanting something a bit different, unexpected or challenging, especially given the price point.

Available basically everywhere in the UK for £9.99 - specifically from Majestic, Waitrose, Sainsbury's, Tesco, Wine Rack and other supermarkets as well as www.nzhouseofwine.co.uk and other wine merchants.


Villa Maria - http://villamaria.co.nz/
Majestic - http://www.majestic.co.uk/
Waitrose - http://www.waitrose.com/ and http://www.waitrosewine.com/
Sainsbury's - http://www.sainsburys.co.uk/sol/index.jsp
Tesco - http://www.tesco.com/
Wine Rack - http://www.winerack.co.uk/
www.nzhouseofwine.co.uk - http://www.nzhouseofwine.co.uk/

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