From north to south, 2013 was a great vintage right across the land," says Villa Maria's Sir George Fistonich. With more than 50 harvests under his belt and vineyards in most of the country's key wine regions, he seems a good starting point to get an angle on a vintage many winemakers are claiming as the best of a lifetime.
Although Kiwi winemakers tend to be more honest in their vintage assessments than those in countries where wine prices are directly correlated with vintage quality, there's always some hyperbole which emanates from the wine industry following a decent vintage.
From my travels around the country over harvest this year, however, 2013 may well be a year when you can believe the hype. Winemakers were brimming with excitement about the vintage, while sneak previews of what was in the tank, barrel and the few bottled examples I've tried to date all appear promising.
In the North Island, the warm, dry weather over this year's harvest and in its run-up was particularly welcome after the difficult 2012 vintage, which some winemakers considered the worst yet experienced. Indeed, in Hawkes Bay, Sacred Hill's Tony Bish describes this year as "without doubt one of the singular best vintages of the last 30 years".
"The consistent sunny dry weather was perfect for ripening," he says. "The chardonnays are bursting with flavour and natural acidity to match and the reds are rich and intense with purity and focus."
"Some are comparing 2013 to the amazing 2011 vintage," reports Daniel Watson, Craggy Range's Martinborough estate manager. "The 2013 vintage has been a wonderful success story for the Martinborough region, with exceptional wines expected across all the major varieties."
In the South Island, Patrick Materman, chief winemaker at the country's biggest wine company, Pernod Ricard, described it as "a sensational vintage for Marlborough".
"Though we've enjoyed the sunshine, it hasn't been a particularly warm season," he explains. "This, combined with a lack of rain, meant pristine fruit development and allowed us to make harvest decisions based on optimal flavour development, while the relatively cool temperatures ensure the aromatic expression and balance of natural acidity that has made Marlborough famous."
Further south in Otago, fortunes were more mixed, largely due to frosts. "There will not be much wine from the Waitaki, but most of it will be very good," notes Valli's Grant Taylor. "It will be a vintage of many excellent wines and some very poor quality ones, with a narrower mid-range than perhaps we normally see," he says of Central Otago, but it was an "excellent" vintage overall.
From Kumeu to Queenstown, frosts were one of the challenges of the vintage, which meant lower crops in the locations affected. The silver lining for the drinker, however, is that lower crops can lead to higher quality. It's no bumper crop like those of 2008 and 2009 - which led to a surplus - or tiny like last year, which created the possibility of a shortage.
So does a vintage date really matter? In cooler climates like ours, vintage conditions definitely impact on the style and quality of wines produced. However, the attention to detail of the most quality-focused producers means the name on the label is arguably just as important a guarantee of quality than the year in which it was made.
Dramatic increases in expertise in the vineyards and wineries in recent years have also helped smooth out vintage variation and transport great vintages to new highs.
"We have had other great vintages," Fistonich concludes, "but we didn't have the quality of grapes and the experience of the staff to make the most of it as we have this year. We should see some fantastic wines."
The 2013 sauvignons will soon be on our shelves, but don't overlook previous vintages just starting to blossom as well.
Villa Maria Early Release Private Bin Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013 - $21.99
The warm summer has delivered a riper style of sauvignon in 2013, with fruit flavours of mango and passionfruit, balanced by punchy notes of oregano herb and fresh lime. (Widely available through grocery stores, liquor outlets and fine wine retailers.)
Tupari Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012 - $29
The Awatere Valley, from which this sauvignon hails, tends to make a style that benefits from some time in the bottle. This elegant example is starting to hit its straps now, with its racy herbal palate, notes of nectarine and mineral. (From Glengarry.)
Giesen The August 1888 Marlborough 2011 - $39.99
Many sauvignons may be best consumed in the first year of their release, but a reserve such as Giesen's impressive flagship can be enjoyed for some years yet. There's a real finesse to its slate-edged palate of understated green fruits and vibrant citrus and rich but subtle toasty honeyed undercurrent. (From giesen.co.nz)