Wine: Top of the drops

Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

Would you pay $80 for a bottle of Marlborough sauvignon blanc? Or, indeed, should you?

That's the price tag of Chosen Rows, the long-awaited flagship sauvignon launched next week by Brancott Estate.

This indisputably serious sauvignon blanc is the fruit of five years' work from the label owned by the country's largest wine company, Pernod Ricard New Zealand.

"It morphed out of the 'Letter Series' range that was launched back in 1991," explained Brancott Estate chief winemaker Patrick Materman at the local media launch of Chosen Rows.

"We wanted to take things to another level, command aspirational prices and also learn more about sauvignon blanc that we could apply to other areas of our portfolio."

The "Icon Project" sought to "unpick" sauvignon blanc from its start in the vineyard to its finish in bottle and market.

Materman and his team scoured their vineyards to find the best sites from which to source grapes for the venture and experimented with viticultural and winemaking techniques, resulting in 40 different batches in its trial 2009 vintage.

Pernod Ricard also harnessed the international know-how of French sauvignon specialist and Professor of Oenology at the University of Bordeaux, Denis Dubourdieu.

With the 2010 vintage, Brancott Estate thought they'd cracked it, making this first commercial release of Chosen Rows. It's so-called because its grapes were selected from rows of vines identified as producing the best fruit, which fittingly are in the company's Brancott vineyard, the site of the first plantings of sauvignon blanc in Marlborough. Marlborough sauvignon made its name with effortlessly vibrant fruit, upfront aromatics and immediate appeal.

The challenge has been to create examples at the more sophisticated end of the spectrum, with more texture and longevity.

New Zealand has remarkably few of these high-end examples, especially given the importance of the variety to the country: it accounts for more than 80 per cent of wine exports.

Although more reserve level sauvignons have been emerging in recent years, most of our sauvignons remain under $25.

Sauvignon also suffers from being regarded as one of the lesser so-called "noble" grape varieties. And though it's true that many are made for simple enjoyment, they can scale considerable heights, as illustrated by the tasting of top sauvignons Materman hosted as part of the Chosen Rows launch. In this, Chosen Rows was placed alongside local benchmarks, Dog Point Section 94 and Cloudy Bay Te Koko and Loire legends from the grape's heartland by Dagueneau, Henri Bourgeois and Alphonse Mellot and Smith Haut Lafitte from Bordeaux.

Chosen Rows and the other local contenders did not look out of place among these stellar sauvignons, with the entire line-up highlighting the grape's capacity for greatness in their thrilling combinations of exhilarating acidity, minerality, textural complexity, intensity and elegance.

"Sauvignon blanc is a noble variety with the potential to produce outstanding wine styles," said Materman.

"Top examples command amazing respect and top prices. But while Marlborough sauvignon blanc stands out as some of the best in the world, we've not reached pinnacle levels of respect yet."

That might well be set to change, as Chosen Rows enriches the small pool of ultra-premium sauvignons, which show just what can be achieved by those willing to lavish attention on the variety and look beyond the mainstream.

But at $80, Chosen Rows becomes the country's most costly sauvignon and it remains to be seen whether wine drinkers here and overseas are ready to pay top dollar for top New Zealand sauvignon blanc.

Whatever the outcome, New Zealand needs more sauvignons like this and, luckily for Materman, with the support of his multinational employer, "it's less about selling the wine and more about the process of making it".


Brancott Estate Chosen Rows Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010 - $80

With its pure green fruits and notes of herb, Chosen Rows retains a classic Marlborough sauvignon character while unfolding to reveal great texture and complexity in its notes of almond, salty minerals and juxtaposition of rich oiliness with taut grapefruit acidity. From Brancott Estate Heritage Centre, fine wine retailers and selected on-premise outlets.

Brancott Estate Terroir Series Marlborough Fume Blanc 2011 - $32.99

Another impressive new sauvignon in the Brancott stable, with notes of guava, grapefruit zest and flint that's been given extra weight from fermentation in oak. From the Brancott Estate Heritage Centre cellar door.

Brancott Estate Letter Series "B" Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012 - $32.99

An intense sauvignon exhibiting bright notes of lemon, blackcurrant leaf and mineral with an attractive savoury undercurrent. From leading liquor retailers. A newly released New Zealand sauvignon blanc can compete with the best in the world, and is worth every penny.


- NZ Herald

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