Australian wine industry slams NZ's sauvignon blanc

By Paul Harper

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

The Australian wine industry has hit out at New Zealand's sauvignon blanc, with one Aussie wine-maker labelling popular Kiwi sav "the McDonald's of wines".

Wine Australia last month called for Aussie wine drinkers to "ditch that Sav Blanc from across the Tasman in favour of a top local drop" for Australia Day, while a Sydney Morning Herald article over the weekend featured several winemakers rallying against New Zealand's hugely popular product.

James Agnew, who has a family-run vineyard in NSW's Hunter Valley and is the former chair of the NSW Wine Strategy, told the paper New Zealand's savs are "the McDonald's of wines".

"You can go all over the world but a Big Mac is still a Big Mac," he said.

Sampling a glass of Australia's top selling white wine, an Oyster Bay sauvignon blanc, Hunter Valley wine-maker Bruce Tyrrell told SMH's Rick Feneley it tasted of "passionfruit ...

body odour ... cat's pee ... lantana".

Stuart Gregor, from Liquid Ideas PR agency, used to promote Marlborough's Montana and Stoneleigh wines, but now describes Kiwi sav as a "one trick pony", while others in the Australian wine industry interviewed by the SMH labelled New Zealand's savs as "one-dimensional" and "generic".

Their comments, however, may just be sour grapes.

In 2009, New Zealand sauvignon blanc overtook chardonnay as the top selling white wine in Australia, with Kiwi sav now accounting for 39 percent of the white wine sold across the Tasman.

Of the 20 top-selling sauvignon blancs, 17 are from New Zealand, while only three are Australian.

To counter the Kiwi invasion, Wine Australia last year launched Aussie Wine Month, urging Australians to opt for local brands for the month of April.

New Zealand Wine chief executive Philip Gregan is confident Australians will continue to enjoy Kiwi savs.

"New Zealand sauvignon blanc has been incredibly successful over the past two decades. It's been successful because it is very good and it is very distinctive."

Mr Gregan said the negative comments from within the Australian wine industry in the SMH article were "unfortunate".

"That's not the response that we have from most people in the trade in Australia, consumers in Australia and anywhere else. The wine is appreciated for what it is, and it is very, very good," he said.

"I don't know what motivates people - perhaps it is commercial jealousy, I don't know."
Mr Gregan believed demand would continue to grow, not just in Australia, but in newer markets such as China and parts of continental Europe.

"Demand for New Zealand sauvignon blanc continues to grow around the world, that's the reality of the situation," he said.

"We haven't seen anything to indicate that the love affair with Marlborough sauvignon blanc is declining in any way."

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