Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.


Recent releases (plus a couple from a sauvignon tasting of Raymond Chan's) fortuitously presented me with a stunning batch of New Zealand sauvignons.  They span the districts Hawkes Bay,  Wairarapa,  Marlborough,  and even Otago.  They present the most exciting range of New Zealand sauvignon styles I have yet seen,  ranging from understated and Sancerre-like,  to almost overblown and Californian-like.  They completely belie the view that all sauvignon tastes the same.  Yet all of them have a New Zealand freshness and magic,  which scarcely any other country on earth has so far matched.

These marvellous wines stimulate the simple question:  since Marlborough is the epicentre of the New Zealand (and world) sauvignon revolution,  why on earth has the district not long-since created a festival to celebrate the increasingly more wonderful achievements and flowering of New Zealand sauvignon blanc ?

After all,  Wairarapa / Wellington has established the three-yearly Pinot Noir Conference,  the third season recently magnificently completed,  which is becoming an internationally recognised meeting place for pinotphiles.  Hawkes Bay this year presented a Syrah Symposium,  associated with the Pinot Noir Conference – a great success.  Gisborne has run the International Chardonnay Challenge and an associated small technical session for 7 years now,  each year with increasing entries.

Surely the much larger Marlborough viticultural district could emulate these other places ?  I have this suspicion that there is a certain subconscious inferiority complex about being pre-eminent in Sauvignon – and hence a supposition:  the variety isn't up to a world-class festival.  Admittedly there are a few people who like to run the grape down,  but they are a minority.  The absolute fact of the matter is,  no other white grape is more versatile with food.  Chardonnay might match sauvignon,  but that's it.  Riesling quite simply doesn't go with most foods,  and will never achieve the imminent arrival I have heard about for 40 years now.  Pinot gris / grigio is essentially the wine for people who don't like wine very much,  and certainly don't like dry wine (being the most popular imported wine variety in the United States,  as reported by Wine Spectator a year or two ago,  surely confirms that),  and all the other white varieties are either irrelevant,  or minority interest affairs.  

But sauvignon – the possibilities are infinite.  Every year now,  the best New Zealand examples are more intriguing,  more innovative,  simply more exciting.  And as the wines become more subtle and satisfying,  they are even more food-friendly.  An ideal approach to a Sauvignon Celebration might take the best points from the models already in New Zealand:  
#   a full,  careful,  and slow-paced judging designed to seek the beauty,  diversity and food-friendliness of the variety,  seeking entries New Zealand and world-wide,  like the Gisborne Chardonnay Challenge;
#   (initially) a day or a day and half of Seminar,  including a research component (from the Marlborough Wine Research Centre and elsewhere),  tutored tastings not only of the top New Zealand sauvignons and the range of styles they display (irrespective of whether they had been entered in the Competition),  but also leading sauvignon styles from the home of the variety,  France,  and all the other countries itching to displace New Zealand as the leading sauvignon blanc maker in the world.  These tastings should be modelled on the 2007 Pinot Noir Conference format,  and allow plenty of time for discussion;  
#   plus (naturally enough) associated food events designed to showcase not only Marlborough's seafoods as seen with sauvignon,  but the district's produce generally,  and other winestyles – particularly Marlborough bubbly.  

Surely winemakers and business people in Marlborough including New Zealand's biggest winemaker,  Montana / Lindauer / Deutz,  would underwrite such a venture ?  It could be run 3-yearly,  a year before the Pinot Noir Conference.  A January timing would allow the previous vintage sauvignons to be starting to show well,  yet allow the vintage-before wines to be seen at full maturity of 21 months.  A 3-yearly cycle might help breakdown the claptrap perpetuated by too many winemakers and winewriters,  that sauvignon is best as young as possible.


2006  Amisfield Sauvignon Blanc
2006  Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough
2005  Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough
2006  Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc
2004  Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc Te Koko
2006  Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc Te Muna Road
2006  Framingham Sauvignon Blanc
  2006  Highfield Sauvignon Blanc
2006  Lake Hayes Sauvignon Blanc
2006  Main Divide Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough
2006  Mills Reef Sauvignon Blanc Reserve
2005  Sacred Hill Sauvignon Blanc Sauvage
2006  Sentinel Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc
2006  Te Mata Sauvignon Blanc Cape Crest

2004  Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc Te Koko   19  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $44   [ screwcap;  cropped at 4.2 t/ac;  some whole-bunch,  wild-yeast BF in mostly older French oak,  followed by full MLF and LA for c. 18 months;  not on website yet;  www.cloudybay.co.nz ]
Lemonstraw.  One sniff and this has to be Te Koko in a blind tasting,  an extraordinarily distinctive wine that is fast becoming almost as much an icon as the standard Cloudy Bay Sauvignon.  The key to its extraordinary complexity on bouquet is the full MLF on top of barrel fermentation and extended lees-autolysis.  This approach mellows out the hypoid notes that barrel-fermented sauvignons sometimes produce,  and substitutes this extraordinary scrambled parsley and herbes eggs on Vogel's wholegrain toast quality that Te Koko shows.  Palate likewise is rich,  bigger and more mouth-filling than the Cape Crest or even the Sacred Hills Sauvage,  with a  texture of complex toasty yet dry fruit that is unmatched.  This is by far the most refined Te Koko yet.  It has taken me a few years to embrace the style wholeheartedly,  but now I will say it:  this is one of the great New Zealand wines,  and certainly the most distinctive.  It cries out for smoked mullet and salad,  but would go with an infinity of foods.  Cellar 5 – 8 years,  maybe longer.  GK 03/07

2006  Amisfield Sauvignon Blanc   19  ()
Central Otago,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $24   [ screwcap;  SB 100% Central Otago-grown @ Lowburn;  small % BF;  not much info on website;  www.amisfield.co.nz ]
Lemongreen.  A very distinctive and subtle sauvignon much more in French style,  some elder blossom,  some subtle lees-autolysis complexity.  Palate is ripe,  rich,  firm,  almost a sturmer-apple complexity to it,  the oak just perfect,  not dominating the variety at all,  but lengthening it superbly,  'dry' finish.  Total flavour is scarcely varietal,  yet well-fruited and fresher than chardonnay,  supremely elegant and lovely drinking.  See further comment under '06 Craggy Range Sauvignon Te Muna.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 03/07

2006  Highfield Sauvignon Blanc   19  ()
Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $24   [ screwcap;  SB 100%;  a small percentage BF,  4 months LA;  RS 1.9 g/L;  www.highfield.co.nz ]
Lemongreen.  Bouquet is intensely black passionfruit,  sweet and clean,  some elderflower and honeysuckle florals,  scarcely a hint of musk,  a marvellous modern Marlborough sauvignon.  Palate is very rich,  great sweet-basil-tinted black passionfruit,  fresh acid but not excess,  perfect residual at an imperceptible dry level.  This is exceptional sauvignon,  and one finds out why on visiting the website.  There is absolute mastery of the oak-handled component,  but the fruit must be very low-cropped too,  to provide such good body at such low residual.  A model wine,  to cellar 5 – 12 years,  on taste.  GK 03/07

2005  Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough   18 ½ +  ()
Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $26   [ cork;  cropped at 2.6 t/ac;  all s/s plus 6 months LA;  owned by Domaine Henri Bourgeois,  Sancerre (www.bourgeois-sancerre.com);  www.closhenri.com ]
Beautiful lemongreen.  Bouquet is a perfect fusion of subtlest most modern New Zealand sauvignon winemaking like the Amisfield Otago and the Highfield Elstree Marlborough,  with a slightly more reserved but equally modern French approach.  The key is the lees-autolysis,  I think,  complexing the bouquet and palate.  Palate is firm,  dry and mineral in a meaningful sense of that word,  showing elderflower and nearly fine-hoppy fruit,  not quite as flinty as the Cloudy Bay,  yet drier.  The Clos Henri is closest to the Amisfield in total style,  just a little more French.  This is very satisfying sauvignon blanc.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 03/07

2006  Lake Hayes Sauvignon Blanc   18 ½  ()
Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $20   [ screwcap;  not much info on website;  www.amisfield.co.nz ]
Lemongreen.  Bouquet is sweet ripe and modern Marlborough sauvignon,  a lot of black passionfruit,  and honeysuckle too.  Palate is pure long-flavoured black passionfruit,  more obvious but less complex than the Amisfield,  and equally long,  a little less 'dry'.  The tiny bite of sweet aromatic red capsicum lengthening the finish is excellent.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 03/07

2006  Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough   18 ½  ()
Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13%;  $19   [ screwcap;  4 g/L RS;  www.astrolabewines.co.nz ]
Pale lemon.  Bouquet is definitive Marlborough sauvignon,  showing clear-cut varietal character ranging from sweet basil and reddest capsicum through to black passionfruit,  with just the faintest suggestion of musky armpit character mingling with the sweet basil – acceptable.  Palate is crisp,  flavourful and 'dry',  close to the Highfield in style but not quite so rich,  less acid than the Cloudy Bay.  In the New Zealand Sauvignon class,  2006 Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc is the current yardstick.  Anything better than this is unarguably gold-medal sauvignon.  Cellar 5 – 8 years.  GK 03/07

2006  Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc Te Muna Road   18 ½  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $24   [ screwcap;  3 t/ac;  40% whole bunch,  some wild yeast;  14% BF in French oak 10% new,  4 months LA,  RS 3 g/L;  exemplary website info though slow to unfold;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Lemongreen.  This is a most unusual sauvignon,  very ripe and very pure,  like the Amisfield in some ways in its pear,  pale peach and ripest English gooseberry fruit,  scarcely any capsicum.  Palate is gorgeous,  really ripe gooseberry,  a totally different sauvignon style.  Thankfully Craggy are retreating from some of their coarser,  high-alcohol sauvignons of previously.  The use of oak in this wine is nearly as subtle as the Amisfield.  A great comparison with the Otago wine,  both adding a new dimension to New Zealand sauvignon.  This should cellar well for 3 – 10 years.  GK 03/07

2006  Mills Reef Sauvignon Blanc Reserve   18 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $18   [ screwcap;  '06 not on website yet,  but '05 had 15% BF in French oak plus 4 months LA;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Lemon.  Bouquet on this sauvignon is very different from the Marlborough wines,  gentler,  riper,  with a distinct tropical (e.g. pepino or musk melon) fruit note on the black passionfruit,  remarkably like fresh fruit salad.  Palate is rich,  and continues the fruit salad impression exactly,  the mouthfeel close to the Highfield,  but the residual higher – though still 'dry'.  This is a perfect expression of the warmer-climate Hawkes Bay style,  showing quite different fruit notes.  It should appeal immensely to those who find Marlborough sauvignons are generally too refreshing.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 03/07

2005  Sacred Hill Sauvignon Blanc Sauvage   18 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $30   [ screwcap;  hand-picked,  whole-bunch pressed;  BF with wild yeasts in new and 1-year oak;  RS < 1 g/L;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Lemon.  Whereas the Mills Reef is explicitly a climatic variation on the Marlborough stainless steel-dominated style,  this Sacred Hill is a stylistic alternative,  clearly oak-influenced,  in the class that used to be called Fumé Blanc.  It shows similar riper-spectrum fruit to the Mills Reef,  rich honeysuckle and sautéed red capsicum fruit intimately entwined with oak,  to give an attractive melded and full bouquet.  It is neither as aggressive as the Te Mata Cape Crest,  or as complex as the Te Koko,  but oak is still about the maximum.  Palate shows great fruit richness and palate length,  a dimension of golden queen peaches adding to the fruit character,  and a wonderfully dry finish.  The wine is so rich,  it doesn't seem dry at all.  For Sauvage,  ultimately the fruit richness wins over the oak,  to make this an exciting alternative sauvignon style – if you like oak.  Cellar 3 – 8  years.  GK 03/07

2006  Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc   18 +  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $29   [ screwcap;  SB 100% cropped @ 3.4 t/ac,  machine-picked;  2 months LA,  RS 3 g/L;  www.cloudybay.co.nz ]
Lemongreen.  Bouquet is as clean as the Highfield,  but not quite so intensely varietal.  Black passionfruit again dominates,  but there is a suggestion of under-ripe peach too,  and more evident red capsicum.  Palate is fresher than the Highfield,  in fact quite acid,  and therefore seems drier,  whereas the numbers are probably similar [ 1 gram more ].  Aftertaste is excellent,  very varietal,  though a little flinty on the acid – perhaps a little much for some tastes.  Cellar 5 – 8 years,  maybe longer.  GK 03/07

2006  Te Mata Sauvignon Blanc Cape Crest   17 ½ +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $28   [ supercritical cork;  SB 85%,  Se 11,  S. gris 4,  hand-harvested,  100% de-stemmed;  BF in French oak,  some new;  8 months LA and batonnage;  RS nil;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Pale lemon.  Bouquet is first and foremost oaky,  behind which is a tangy version of sauvignon blanc,  combining elements of red capsicum,  crushed Cape Ivy,  and hypoid  oil.  Total bouquet leaves one a little dubious,  as sometimes happens with this characterful grape.  Palate is rich,  but notably acid and clearly too oaky for the fruit.  But,  there is marvellous lees-autolysis complexity,  and the wine seems much drier than the Sacred Hill Sauvage,  bone dry.  This is a case where the numbers don't illuminate the sensations in mouth.  Cape Crest is a wine for very dry palates,  made in a modern Bordeaux / Graves style.  It is a pity the oak dominates the wine so much,  but there are modern Graves with as much oak,  and they cellar well.  The lees autolysis is important,  for maturation in bottle.  I'm not sure whether this will mellow out attractively or not,  and would like to cellar some for 3 – 10 years,  and see.  The riper-spectrum Hawkes Bay sauvignon when good does cellar better than the more edgy Marlborough style.  But I'd prefer more restraint with the oak,  less new oak,  so that the variety spoke rather more.  GK 03/07

2006  Sentinel Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc   16 ½ +  ()
Brancott Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $14   [ screwcap;  hand-picked;  sloping site,  RS 3.3 g/L;  www.sentinelvineyard.com ]
Lemongreen.  Bouquet is clean and fresh straightforward Marlborough sauvignon,  a little old-fashioned with a clear green nettle complexity on mixed colours of capsicum.  Palate tends riper rather than herbaceous,  the nett impression yellow capsicums,  a little dryer than the standard Marlborough 'dry' finish.  This won't cellar so well,  1 – 3 years.  GK 03/07

2006  Framingham Sauvignon Blanc   16 ½  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13%;  $20   [ screwcap; RS 2.5 g/L; picked at sequential ripenesses for complexity;  www.framingham.co.nz ]
Lemongreen.  Bouquet is mixed on this one,  with some Marlborough armpit / sweaty character detracting from very ripe black passionfruit plus an extra subtropical note – pepino or even mango,  as if there were some Hawkes Bay fruit in it.  Palate is strongly varietal,  drier than most (confirmed),  but the sweat lets it down.  Cellar 3 – 5 years.  GK 03/07

2006  Main Divide Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough   15  ()
Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $20   [ screwcap;  no specs on website;  www.maindivide.com ]
Pale lemongreen.  Bouquet is clogged,  slightly farty and reductive.  Below is abstract white fruit.  Palate is rich,  very dry,  some black passionfruit and red capsicum showing in stonefruit,  maybe some barrel fermentation,  but still clogged.  This just misses the boat,  reverting to the kind of sauvignon this winery formerly presented.  The Amisfield illustrates a lees autolysis style beautifully done.  Not worth cellaring.  GK 03/07