Sav blanc growers pose question of refined taste

By Joelle Thomson

Wine giant Allied Domecq is to reveal why grapes of the same variety taste different according to which area of Marlborough they are grown.

The company - formerly Montana Wines - has commissioned researchers to find out nuances in the taste of the hugely popular sauvignon blanc variety.

The research, to be released next month, was commissioned to prove that differences do exist in the flavour of wine made from the same grapes by the same methods but grown in different climates, soils and topography - an idea the French call "terroir".

Master of Wine Simon Nash said maintaining world interest in Marlborough sauvignon blanc was critical to the New Zealand wine industry.

"This is why we are trying to pin down exactly what it is that makes a difference in flavour between sauvignon grapes grown in one area and those grown in another."

Mr Nash hoped the research would reveal how many growing areas there were within Marlborough, what the specific taste differences were and how they could best market the variances.

The Allied Domecq research would also allow that winery and possibly others to tailor grapes from sub-regions into wine styles that suited specific wine markets.

For example, the UK traditionally enjoyed New Zealand sauvignon blancs which were relatively high in acid, aggressive in flavour and fresh in style, said winemaker Kim Crawford.

In the US, drinkers preferred less acidity and less pronounced green herbaceous flavours but wanted more sweet fruit taste.

Sauvignon blanc is the country’s best-known style and its largest wine export, but is now being produced by an increasing number of other countries.

Mr Crawford emphasised the importance of understanding and being able to communicate the differences in sauvignon blanc grown in sub-regions within New Zealand’s wine areas.

There was a danger New Zealand might lose its international edge to other countries if winemakers did not examine exactly what the differences were and use them as marketing tools, he said.

"Most of the UK media are waiting for a sauvignon blanc that tastes amazing and costs less than 5 a bottle. That’s what they think it should cost but that is not cost-efficient for most New Zealand wineries."

Mr Crawford said the classic Marlborough style should be enhanced by having a more complex understanding of sub-regional flavour variations in the grapes.

"We are seeing three specific regions, showing enough differentiation to be able to appeal to people who have already enjoyed Marlborough sauvignon blanc but are looking for differentiation."

Winemaker Michelle Richardson said feedback from buyers in Britain told her that New Zealand was never going to make enough of the flavoursome styles of sauvignon blanc because market demand for it was so strong.

"What might have to change is some of the price points that wine sells for.

"The great majority of people drinking Kiwi sauvignon blanc are very happy with the style but it’s the buyers and the international media that we need to keep interested through a terroir-driven approach."

SAV BLANC RULES

In 2003-04 sauvignon blanc accounted for:

* 33% of vineyard area.

* 42% of the harvest.

* 63% of wine exports (by volume).

Source: NZ Winegrowers

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