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Loire and NZ courtship ahead of Sauvignon Blanc Day

Published:  18 April, 2019

Generic bodies Central Loire, Loire Valley Wines and New Zealand Wine put aside their rivalry yesterday at 67 Pall Mall in a display of varietal unity ahead of Sauvignon Blanc Day on 3 May.

The masterclass idea, cooked up by New Zealand Wine’s Chris Stroud and Victoria Kukla of Sopexa “after a glass of Sauvignon or three”, was to explore and celebrate both the similarities and sometimes marked differences between the styles from each country, while focusing on the enduring qualities of this remarkably popular variety.

“Why pit ourselves against each other? Sauvignon Blanc is a fascinating story and there is a lot that is exciting in both regions,” said Kukla.

The masterclass was hosted by Rebecca Gibb MW and Dr Jamie Goode, delivering insights into the stylistic differences between New Zealand and the Loire’s major Sauvignon Blanc producing areas, plus a more “geeky” scientific explanation of the role that compounds such as thiols play in delivering such a distinct varietal character.

In addition to delivering a host of left-field Sauvignon Blanc facts, such as its first literary mention by satirist François Rabelais as a cure for constipation (back in 1534), along with the news that there are 500ha of Sauvignon in India and that it is Israel’s most widely planted white variety, the session had a serious side too.

“Sauvignon Blanc is fascinating because so much research has been done into its flavour profile and linking this back to the vineyard,” said Goode. It’s a loop tying back to viticulture and the grape and the soils.”

The assembled wine press were invited to blind taste pairs of wines, one each from New Zealand and the Loire, in differing stylistic categories, with a show of hands invited as to which was Kiwi and which was French.

This was by no means always a clear-cut distinction, and had tasting luminaries such as Jancis Robinson MW and Steven Spurrier differing in opinion over the potential origin of wines, suggesting how far the styles have evolved in both regions.

Gibb reminded the audience just how recent Sauvignon Blanc’s ascendancy has been in New Zealand, with the grape only becoming the country’s most widely planted variety in 2002, and the area planted to Sauvignon had trebled since then.

“New Zealand is 450 years behind the Loire, but it’s been doing some good catching up,” said Gibb, adding that there are now 23,000ha of Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand, with Sauvignon accounting for nine of every 10 bottles exported.

France has around 30,000ha of Sauvignon planted, of which 10,000ha are in the Loire.

“The purpose of this is to create a story, some content, and hopefully some coverage in Sauvignon Blanc Week,” said Stroud.