Head Down Under for New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc


Vineyard in New Zealand. Photo by Kushnirov Avraham.

Any time is the perfect time to enjoy a chilled, crisp, dry Sauvignon Blanc. Let's find out more about this popular white wine, by taking a virtual trip Down Under to one of the biggest Sauvignon Blanc producing countries -- New Zealand.

Planting their first commercial Sauvignon Blanc vines in the 1970s, New Zealand soon rocked the world with their stellar wine. They are the 2nd largest producer of Sauvignon Blanc behind France. When it comes to wine, we always hear about “France this” and “France that.” Let’s give another country a little limelight for a change. :)


7 Regions to Know

New Zealand is a long narrow, mountainous landmass that is made up of two islands referred to as North Island and South Island. There are 7 key regions across these two islands that produce Sauvignon Blanc. The climates vary from warm and tropical to cool which affects the flavor profiles of the wine.

New Zealand Map shows the 7 Regions for Sauvignon Blanc.

The North Island is warmer which means the grapes will ripen quicker. This results in Sauvignon Blanc that has ripe, tropical fruit flavors like melon, nectarine, and other stone fruits along with that signature acidity and herbaceous notes.

The South Island is cooler with a longer growing cycle. This results in Sauvignon Blanc that has full fruit flavors like passion fruit, grapefruit, gooseberry, and red bell pepper along with a higher level of acidity and those signature herbaceous notes. I feel a tasting opportunity coming on!

#1: Marlborough New Zealand

Waikawa Bay in Marlborough just north of wine country. Photo by Nigel Spiers.

Our first stop is Marlborough, New Zealand. This is where nearly 90% of New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc is grown and produced, making it a particularly important region to know.

Marlborough is located on the South Island along the Northern tip. The vineyards stretch inland from the sea running along the valley floors and onto the hillsides. This region is dry and sunny with large temperature shifts from day to night. All of these factors mean the grapes develop tropical fruit flavors and high acidity levels. Also, look for the signature herbaceous notes that are typical of Sauvignon Blanc.

#2: Hawke’s Bay

View from Te Awanga Peak in the Hawke's Bay region. Photo by Andres Jacobi.

Next stop, Hawke’s Bay. This is the 2nd largest region producing about 5% of the Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand. This region is found on the North Island along its Eastern coast. This region has a warm and dry maritime climate where the grapes ripen more quickly and develop rich, intense tropical flavors with lower acidity.

Remember that grapes start out very acidic, then as they ripen the acidity drops while the sugars increase. A warmer climate means riper grapes and lower acidity. It also means the greater amounts of sugar will convert to a higher alcohol wine.


More North Island Regions to Know

Let’s visit two more regions on the North Island. These two combined make up almost 2% of the Sauvignon Blanc production in New Zealand.

3: Wairarapa is on the Southern end of the island and produces wine with stone fruit, herbaceous notes along with minerality.

4: Gisborne is North of Hawke’s Bay along the coast. These wines will have ripe fruit like pineapple along with citrusy notes.


More South Island Regions to Know

Jumping back to the South Island where we began our trip, there are three more regions to explore. This three combined make up about 4% of the Sauvignon Blanc production.

5: Nelson is located just Northwest of Marlborough. You’ll find ripe tropical fruit and herbaceous notes with these wines.

6: North Canterbury is further south from Marlborough in an even cooler climate, producing a more citrusy wine with even higher acidity.

7: Central Otago is the southernmost region. The vineyards are located inland and at higher altitudes. These wines will have citrusy notes with crisp acidity, and a stony minerality.


Top Rated Sauvignon Blanc

Marlborough:

Saint Clair Family Estate, Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, $34 – Points 92

Cloudy Bay, Sauvignon Blanc, $31 – Points 91

Kim Crawford, $20 – Points 90

White Haven, $20 – Points 90

Oyster Bay, $13 – Points 90

Hawke’s Bay:

Elephant Hill, Element Series, Sea Sauvignon Blanc, $24 – Points 93

Wildsong Hawke’s Bay Sauvignon Blanc, $20 – No rating

Nelson:

Seifried, Aotea Sauvignon Blanc, $17 – Points 91

North Canterbury:

Mt Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc, $17 – Points 90

Greystone, Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc, $17 – Points 91

Central Otago:

Peregrine, $24 – Points 91

Amisfield, $21 – Points 90

Wairarapa:

Many times you’ll see Martinborough on the label. This is a sub-region of Wairarapa.

Craggy Range, Te Muna Road Sauvignon Blanc, $22 – Points 92

Tora Bay Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, $16 – Points 90

Gisborne:

Lighthouse Wines Sauvignon Blanc, $13 – No rating


New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc Wrap Up

I hope this has inspired you to dive into Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. Discover the differences across the regions. Why not setup a wine tasting with a couple of bottles from Marlborough and compare them to a couple of the other regions. See if you can tell the difference between the North Island and South Island wines. Chur Bro! (Kiwi for Cheers Brother!)

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