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Time to change perception of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

Published:  27 June, 2019

New Zealand’s much-loved Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc needs to change its ‘drink now’ image to help boost consumer understanding of its more complex, premium and age-worthy styles.

That is the assessment of Matt Duggan, head viticulturalist at Jackson Estate, describing the ongoing trend for top Marlborough producers to move away from upfront “fruit bomb” Sauvignons to more textured wines, capable of improving over time in the bottle.

“The perception is that Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc needs to be drunk young, people look for the youngest one on the shelf,” said Duggan.

“But that’s not the case, the premium wines can potentially be at their best after two to three years after release, and some can look good for up to six or seven years.”

He said that the challenge now for Marlborough producers was to shift that perception beyond the popular entry-level styles of (generally bulk) supermarket wines, aimed at immediate consumption, to encourage trading up, and that understanding that premium Marlborough Sauvignon has increasingly begun to lean towards classic Loire styles would help.

Duggan was making the point over a over a tasting of the Jackson Estate portfolio, where he highlighted what he described as a “three pronged” scenario in Marlborough.

The first prong, or tier, consists of those aforementioned entry level “fruit-forward, passionfruit and gooseberry” styles. The second has been the evolution over time of a premium tier, such as Cloudy Bay (where Duggan worked until a year ago), Nautilus, Dog Point and Jackson Estate’s own Stich, which while subtler and more complex, remain very recognisably within the expected idiom of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

A third tier, though, often drawing on fruit from sites such as Marlborough’s cooler southern valleys, comprising wines such as early runner Te Koko and Jackson Estate’s own Grey Ghost – a fume style Sauvignon, with rounding ageing in seasoned oak, a spot of malo, plenty of lees stirring and some wild ferment placing emphasis on texture and minerality – is in the ascendancy.

“These are almost Old World in style, moving sway from Marlborough towards Sancerre and Pouilly Fume, although still with a New World signature, and these wines are capable of improving with age,” said Duggan.

He added that it was winemakers driving these styles, looking to produce something a little different, both for their own satisfaction and to help advance understanding of the potential still to be fully achieved in the region.

With regard to the fume styles, Duggan highlighted the stylistic shift in clear terms, saying “the idea is to avoid green flavours at all costs” – not something that many would expect if accustomed to the entry level New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs on retailer shelves.