Don Kavanagh samples a heavenly sip with a somewhat hefty price tag

How much would you pay for a Marlborough sauvignon blanc?

We've become so used to picking up a bottle of savvy for less than $20 that the question isn't something I've really thought about until now.

That has changed with the launch of Brancott Estate's super-premium Chosen Rows 2010 sauvignon blanc, a wine that has been years in the making and has been released with an $80 price tag. That makes it the most expensive sauvignon blanc produced in New Zealand and it also raises a couple of interesting questions.

The first question, of course, is how does one justify such a price for a wine we're more used to picking one up for $17.99?


Well, a hell of a lot of work has been put into this wine. Special vines were selected from various parts of the vineyard; selected bunches were then hand-picked and crushed before half of them were fermented exquisitely slowly to preserve as much fruit character as possible.

After fermentation, half of the wine was aged in French oak cuvees to give it a little more texture and body and the resulting wine was then left on its lees for eight months to pick up more flavour and body. The results are quite stunning, with the wine living up to its hype and delivering an elegant and smooth version of sauvignon blanc that makes the standard el cheapo supermarket savvy taste like weasel's piss.

It's got it all - lovely wafts of tart citrus, a hint of brine and even onion skin on the nose and voluptuous fruit notes that sing across the palate. It's integrated, sumptuous and texturally to die for ... but is it worth $80?

That's not a question I can really answer, because it is not up to me to say whether it is or it isn't worth the money. I do know it is one of the best sauvignon blancs I've tasted, but it's up to others whether or not they are willing to shell out the shekels. And it appears they are, because the wine has already been selling well at the cellar door.

In a wider sense, though, the launch of an $80 sauvignon is perhaps the first step in reclaiming the wine high ground and getting people out of the bargain bins. There are plenty of wines from New Zealand that cost $80 and more, although sauvignon blanc - with some notable exceptions - has struggled to break the $35 mark.

Putting one out at $80 is a risk, but a well-thought-out one; if this sells, it opens the gates for a more muscular approach to premium wine, at least when it comes to price.

So perhaps the dawn of this utterly gorgeous wine is also the beginning of the end for the bargain hunters. Slug back your sauvignon in peace for the moment, but be prepared to pay the price when the next generation comes over the horizon.