Marlborough New Zealand that is. We just finished a few days in Blenheim and got to immerse ourselves in the winemaking culture and attitude of Marlborough. An aside – when we disembarked the Interislander Ferry from Wellington at Picton and took the short drive through the hills into the Wairau River Valley I had to pinch myself to realize I was actually in New Zealand, a place I’ve longed to visit (as I wrote about). They take their wine seriously here and, remember, it’s really Marlborough that put New Zealand on the world wine map with lively and zingy Sauvignon Blanc. They still focus on that but Pinot Noir is finding its place along with other varietals like Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. Notice a theme? Yep – Marlborough is where you find cool climate varieties.
New Zealand has several wine growing regions, and even though they have not yet adopted an appellation system like the US and other major wine growing countries, each does have unique characteristics. In Marlborough it’s the moderating influence of the rain shadow from the western mountains, the combination of clay and rocky greywacke soils and the ocean breezes from Cloudy Bay that give the wines their signature. The days are long and usually sunny and there are not high heat spikes so there is an extended, cooler growing season. Geek Alert: Greywacke is the mineral rich rock that makes up the mountains of the Southern Alps so its all over South Island New Zealand.
Blenheim is the heart of this wine region and from there it’s very easy to explore the whole area – none of the wineries were more than a 20 minute drive from our base station, the unique Antria Lodge, and owner Phil pointed us in all the right directions! Most offer open to the public and free tastings at their “cellar door.” So we went off to sip some Marlborough wines.
This was like a Sauvignon Blanc seminar. When you consider that 85% of the wine in Marlborough is Sauvignon Blanc there’s a lot of sipping to cover – but somebody has to do it!
What did we find? We found characteristically grassy and tart wines and we found those with elegance and finesse. We found wines with fruit forward flavors of gooseberry and herbaceous asparagus and wines with tropical grapefruit tastes. We found edgy and acidic offerings and some lightly oaked with supple flavors. We found single vineyard wines and the high volume Marlborough wines you see all over the world. We found winemakers who are devoted to the heritage of their land (read the Auntsfield story), those who are experimenting with the nuances of the terroir (visit Clos Henri)and those using native wild yeast to give their wines a specific signature (see Greywacke). In short we found a vibrant and eclectic wine country experience. There’s a lot more to a sip of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc than you may think. I know it opened me up to new sipping experiences.
We were very fortunate to be able to wander these wines first hand, but a great way to pay a virtual visit to Marlborough, and help you find some wines near home, is by visiting Wine Marlborough.
Here are some Marlborough sips for you to enjoy from our visit. I tasted them all and they are a nice reflection of being “On the Road – In Marlborough Country.”
2016 Omaka Springs Sauvignon Blanc $14
2016 Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc $16
2016 Babich Sauvignon Blanc Black Label $16
Lawson’s Dry Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2015 $16
Auntsfield Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc $18
Zephyr Sauvignon Blanc 2016 $18
Villa Maria 2016 Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc $18
2016 Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough $20
Yealands Estate Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016 $24
2014 Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough $25