By Rose Murray Brown MW    Published in The Scotsman 16 January 2016

Why is New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc so unique?  This is a question I asked numerous winemakers during my recent tour through North and South Island.

Top winemaker Kevin Judd of Greywacke in Marlborough summed it up most succinctly.  “The special factors here include: a maritime climate with maximum of 30 degree temperatures, free-draining soils, rainshadow of mountains with average 700mm rain per year and cool evening temperatures which helps retain natural acidity in the grapes”, he says. 

“However, the real key is the intensity of light, the sun without heat, the clear air and crucially – the high UV”, says Judd.  So this is what gives Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc in particular its world famous explosive pungency, zesty ripe fruits and mouthwatering acidity – the grape that dazzled us all and woke us up to New Zealand wines.

Dog Point vineyard in MarlboroughSauvignon Blanc is now very much the dominant Kiwi grape with 72% of production and 86% of export (2014).  Whilst the majority of our top twelve New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs do come from Marlborough (Dog Point vineyard in Marlborough is pictured right) – there are also interesting styles to explore in the warmer regions of Martinborough and Hawkes Bay in North Island – and in Nelson and Central Otago in South Island.  You will find a wide range of vintages on the shelves from vibrant youthful newly-shipped 2015’s, mellowing softer 2014’s through to more mature cooler vintage 2012 and 2011 for the oaked versions.


Kevin Judd at Greywacke MarlboroughMarlborough: GREYWACKE SAUVIGNON BLANC 2015
(£14.95 for 2015 vintage or £11.95 for 2014 vintage at; both vintages at £15-£16 bt at Villeneuve Wines, Woodwinters, Valhallas Goat, Aitken Wines, Lockett Bros, Fine Wine Co, Henderson Wines, Luvians, Drinkmonger, Ellies Cellar)
Kevin Judd (pictured right) makes benchmark classic Sauvignon Blanc from 12 different vineyards all with varying trellis systems, as he believes by manipulating vine canopies you can lift the aromatics in the wine.  He says that growing grapes in Marlborough is always about ‘chasing ripeness’ to get more flavour.  His 2015 Sauvignon has a wonderful bright acidity, pungent, grassy, beautifully incisive limey flavour with grapefruit undertones, but is still young.  His maturing 2014 is mellowing with ripe  fruits from a warm vintage – a great bargain at £11.95: 13.5%

(£13.50 bt or £12 bt in mixed case of 12; £16.99
George Fromm arrived from Switzerland in the 1980s, so has had plenty of practice fine tuning his Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.  I liked the gooseberry fruit aromas, flinty minerally bone dry style with its well-balanced palate weight and texture.  Zippy and fresh, but not too extreme or austere, now showing a good bit of soft bottle maturity: 13.5%

(£16.99 Waitrose)                                       
This is a new find.  Astrolabe was created by winemaker Simon Waghorn, who trained in South Australia and Gisborne in New Zealand before heading to Marlborough.  He makes several Sauvignons, this is from Awatere valley, south of the famous Wairau valley, where cooler temperatures and windier less sheltered vineyard sites give a more nettly, capsicum flavour.  I enjoyed the lime fruits and characteristic pungency, although this is almost piercing in its youthful exuberance, dry and savoury.  Astrolabe are definitely a winery to watch.  13%

Judy Finn of Neudorf winery NelsonNelson: NEUDORF SAUVIGNON BLANC 2014
(£18; Woodwinters; Raeburn Wines; Berry Bros & Rudd)
Ever since my visit last year to meet the Finn family of Neudorf (Judy Finn picture right), I have been a confirmed fan of this winery which really leads the field in Nelson (Marlborough’s neighbour in South Island) with superb Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays.  Nelson is one of New Zealand’s sunniest regions with long summer days and cool nights.  Sweet pea, pea pod, herby aromas, very zappy, vibrant but a lovely rich texture from a partial 20% barrel fermentation.  It has a touch more fruit sweetness than many Marlborough Sauvignons: 13.5%

(2015 vintage is £13.95; 2014 vintage is £13.60 at
Amongst a line of up of Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs, Churton’s well balanced Sauvignon stood out as a good benchmark example.  Owners Sam and Mandy Weaver have created a very sleek example with gooseberry and lime aromas, whistle clean purity, focused fruits, minerally undertones and a vibrant zesty finish: 13.5%

Jo & Nick Mills of Rippon winery New ZealandCentral Otago: RIPPON SAUVIGNON BLANC 2013
Far south in beautiful Wanaka, an hour’s drive from Queenstown, long established Rippon Vineyard (est 1975) shows a very different face of Sauvignon Blanc.  Temperate climate, high UV, long sunshine hours give an intensity to Sauvignon, but less pungent aroma.  Owners Nick and Jo Mills (pictured right) use a percentage of old oak to add mouthfeel and texture.  Limey, white currant flavours, long dry finish: 13.5%

Jane Hunter (pictured right in her garden) was one of Marlborough’s pioneers.  When she began in 1983 there was more barley and sheep than vines in Marlborough.  Today she still makes a  classic style of Sauvignon Blanc, but I was more impressed with her oaked version when I tasted with her at her Marlborough winery.  Intense yeasty nose, rich butterscotch notes with a tangy freshness.  It reminded me of Chardonnay: 13.5%

(£30 Oddbins)
I was impressed by Giesen’s premium Sauvignons when I visited them at their Marlborough tasting room.  They produce a range of single vineyard wines in Wairau Valley, focusing on low yields.  Using a wild yeast starter and a touch of Semillon, they rest the wine on its yeast lees for 11 months in 70% new/30% old German oak barrels creating a complex Sauvignon with grassy, ripe fruit aromas and a soft creamy texture which shows potential to mature well to enhance softness: 14%

Dog Point Winery Marlborough wine reviewMarlborough: DOG POINT ‘SECTION 94’ SAUVIGNON BLANC 2014
(2011 vintage is £21.99/£27.50 in Majestic Wine;
“It’s all about texture in this Sauvignon Blanc”, says Ivan Sutherland of Dog Point winery (his son Matt is pictured right in the winery). He puts pressed grapes straight into barrel and leaves the wine on solid lees longer for this special single block Sauvignon, to enhance aroma and complexity.  A delicious richly zesty Sauvignon from the warm 2014 vintage which has more passionfruit and tomato herby notes alongside white blossom and peach flavours, ideal for serving with goats cheese.  Shows potential to develop and soften with time in bottle: 14%

Martinborough: CRAGGY RANGE TE MUNA ROAD SAUVIGNON BLANC 2014 (£15.90 The NZ Wine Cellar)  Martinborough in North Island has a warmer climate creating softer acid Sauvignon Blanc.  Partly oaked style using older barriques for just 5 months, so this Sauvignon shows less smoky oak notes, but the oak has definitely helped to soften out the palate.  It has jasmine and limey aromas, nectarine flavours with a good freshness with a long chalky length.  A wine for early drinking: 13%

Wine Tasting at Cloudy Bay winery Marlborough New ZealandMarlborough: CLOUDY BAY ‘TE KOKO’ SAUVIGNON BLANC 2011
(£33.75/£37.50 Majestic Wine)
Te Koko is an oaked version of Cloudy Bay’s Sauvignon.  Barrel fermented using wild yeasts with 18 months in oak (8% new oak) – and only 20% goes through malolactic fermentation.  2011 was a high yielding vintage.  It tastes much brasher and richer than standard Cloudy Bay Sauvignon.  Floral, beeswax and dried fruit flavours with gingernut and smokey undertones, powerful and mouthfilling, it makes a good match with spicy Asian dishes: 13.5%

Wine Tasting at Greywacke winery wine review Rose Murray BrownMarlborough: GREYWACKE ‘WILD’ SAUVIGNON BLANC 2013
(£21.50 The Wine Society; £24 Villeneuve Wines, Woodwinters, Valhallas Goat, Aitken Wines, Lockett Bros, Fine Wine Co, Henderson Wines, Luvians, Drinkmonger, Ellies Cellar)
Another Judd classic.  This ‘wild’ Sauvignon is made using natural yeasts, 100% barrel fermentation with two-thirds put through malolactic fermentation.  Judd believes in fully ripened grapes to get stone fruit flavours blended from seven different vineyards.  Beautifully made, textured, complex, nutty, long rich leesy flavour with savoury, spice, sour grapefruit, sweet vanilla and almond notes: 14%

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