New Zealand


I’ve flown to New Zealand to attend and speak at the New Zealand Winegrowers annual Pinot Noir NZ event. People fly in from all over the world to attend and this year is no exception. There are speakers and attendees arriving from all over Europe, the United States and Canada, Australia and of course New Zealand. Many of us too have flown in in advance to tour the wine regions of the country getting to know the geography and unique growing conditions, and how they express through the various wines. The first couple days have several of us in Central Otago studying primarily Pinot noir from the area’s subregions. I’ll be posting about a Central Otago¬†Master Class on structure in Pinot as well as a vintage study for the region in the next couple days.

We’ve also gotten to taste a peppering of white wines with meals and there are some lovely Chardonnays and Rieslings from Central Otago. While I didn’t manage to get a photo of either bottle, I quite enjoyed the Chardonnays from Felton Road and Maude. Felton Road has of course made a substantial name for itself world wide. They have some of the oldest vines in Central Otago as well as a long standing serious commitment to quality in both the vineyard and cellar. Maude, I’ll admit, is new to me. This is the first trip I’ve encountered the wines. Their Chardonnay offers just enough of a reductive edge to bring tension and a nervy cut to the shape of the wine. The flavors are all fresh and full of sapidity.

The Riesling of Central Otago has turned out to be a stand out for me and I’m hoping for more. In a few days we’ll do an Aromatics seminar in Nelson that will include a wash of Riesling, I’m guessing. I’m especially looking forward to it.

Our first night in Central Otago a bottle of Rippon Riesling was snuck into the middle of dinner. It was a refreshing surprise and one of my stand out wines for the first day of tasting. The 2011 offers an elegant gravitas – a wine with nice purity and precision that avoids austerity while still being restrained. The age offers just enough flesh on the palate to carry its wash of acidity with pleasure.

Rippon is one of the celebrated producers of Central Otago for both the quality of their wines and the beauty of their site.

Rippon is a family owned and run project. We were able to meet them on the last night in Central Otago while sharing dinner with the family at their winery. Winemaker Nick Mills, shown here, works with his mother, and siblings to produce the wines and run the business. I’m sorry not to have a portrait of his mother, who is an inspiring presence. She made dinner for several ten of us and was a pleasure to hear speak as well.

The other Riesling stand out from Central Otago was Prophet’s Rock, made by winemaker Paul Pujol, shown here. He’s also utterly charming – one of those thoughtful, jovial, and kind people I can’t help but want to spend time with. Originally from New Zealand Paul’s career had him making wine for a few years each in both Alsace and Willamette Valley before returning to Central Otago to make wine.

His 2010 Dry Riesling carries the glittering acidity of Central Otago housed in fresh stone fruits but most of all it opens the palate with purity and that sort of clarity that comes from glacial mountain water – if you’ve ever lived or traveled in a cold mountain region you know that pleasurable shock that comes from a cold glacial stream. It’s some of the purest flavor too on the planet – but then through the midpalate the wine opens to a kiss of apricot peach sweetness that closes the palate. It’s a lovely wine.

The 2014 Prophet’s Rock Dry Riesling comes in lighter and more finessed right now than the 2010, following a tighter arc across the mouth than the 2010. Some of that comes from age, I suspect, but there also seems to be a difference in vintage expression – less fruit focus on the younger vintage that I don’t think will turn into the level of apricot peach flavors of the 2010 though the¬†younger wine offers fresh stone fruits too. Again, its gift is that purity.

The apricots of Central Otago are almost shocking in their vibrancy. They’re utterly high, bright acid like putting a light bulb in your mouth but then the fruit notes that come just after the shock are lovely. My first bite of one jolted me but then I couldn’t get enough. I’m a fan of that feeling of food or wine lighting up the back of my head. The apricots of the region share that sense of mountain glacial purity that I find in the Rieslings mentioned here, and while the wines aren’t shocking in the way the fruit is there is a spectrum of commonality between them – light touch flavors of stone fruit, glacial mountain purity, and an ultra long finish of pleasing acidity.

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IPNC Day 1: Vineyard Tour: Yamhill Valley Vineyards

The International Pinot Noir Celebration includes a day of vineyard tours in which attendees are split into small groups that then take a personal vineyard and winery tour, including tastings from four Pinot Noir producers, and a seminar on wine. The focus of the seminar is on helping participants understand the full steps of the process from vine to glass, including the decisions made by the wine maker.

Today, my sister (who is attending IPNC with me–pictures to follow) and I were on a vineyard tour of Yamhill Valley Vineyards, which included a wine maker panel with Yamhill as well as Cristom, Tyee, and Felton Road. Following are wine review comics of the Pinot panel wines presented.

Felton Road 2008 Block 5 Pinot Noir

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“The truth is, we didn’t really have any genius when decisions had to be made. The problem is, the idea of making decisions focuses on the concept of better or worse, and the idea that the wine is on a trajectory of better or worse. But wine is actually multifaceted, and dynamic. So, instead, we tried to focus on critical moments. And, when there is a time to make a decision, to decide to do nothing, and also to avoid doing things differently, and it turns out we like it quite a lot. It’s turned out to be our philosophy and we’re big proponents of it as an approach.

“The decision to do something, or to not is a challenge because if you do something you can tell yourself that you tried your best. But resisting that decision, and deciding not to do something is much harder. You must be patient.

“The process of not making a decision. When thinking about wine, there are three factors that are going into the making of an individual wine. There is the place, it is a fixed fixed thing. There is one rule, and that is that you can’t move your vineyard. Then there is the weather that year. It is a fixed variable in that you can’t do anything about it but it changes from year to year. Then there is the viticulture and the wine making and we combine them because really they are one thing.

“The weather, you can’t do anything about it, but it effects the place, and you might change your viticulture and wine making choices in response to it. But, if you muck around in your viticulture and wine making due to weather, then when you taste the wine you can’t pick apart the effects of the place from the effects of the weather and what you have becomes just a beverage, not a complex interesting wine. So, we make wine from a fixed variable. We try to make it the same every time, to keep our wine making choices consistent so that what you taste is the place, and the vintage, the weather.” –Nigel Greening, Felton Road

Cristom 1998 Marjorie Vineyard Pinot Noir

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“We believe that handling the wine as little as possible is a benefit. We had early experiments to see what worked, and over time saw the less we handled the wine the better it was. So, when it comes time to make a decision [in the wine making], we try not to do something. It can be awfully hard. Especially when faced with data that tells you you are out of the box. But, that is what comes from experience–knowing when to go ahead and not do anything or when to jump in and try to do something.

“[I brought the 1998 because] the Estate vineyard, it was a difficult decision that year. It was a very low yield year, with low moisture, and pretty warm, and it didn’t have a lot of hang time. So, I wanted to leave the fruit out longer. We had 85 days that year, and normally we have 115, 125. It was a hard decision to pick, but we had to before the sugars got to high.

“In the cellar normally we don’t get a lot of sulfites, but in 1998 we were plagued with it. When that happened, I figured if we have this thing, I’m going to try to learn from it. So I dealt with it in a bunch of different ways. I racked some barrels. I sulfured some. I added silver to some, which is illegal but I tried it not to sell but to see the effect. I did nothing to some. It turned out that the sulfites, it resolved itself and no method did any better than any other. So, that reaffirmed the philosophy of my not doing anything.

It was a vintage where I was not happy with the hang time, but I was pleased with how the wine finally turned out. But, originally, I didn’t have high hopes for it. Sometimes wines surprise you. It can be the other way too. Wines you think you did a good job on can turn out not great in the long run.” –Steve Doerner, Cristom Wines

Tyee 2009 Estate Barrel Select

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“My family has owned the farm since 1885. I am a fifth generation farmer. I was born in 1974, the first year my parents planted vines. Then they planted more in the 1980s, so I helped with that. It is a small family owned farm, with hazelnuts. We had sheep for a time, hay, grass seed. Even if I’d left there, then I would still come back for harvest every year. In 2004 I became vineyard manager. Then in 2006 I became the wine maker, that was my first vintage.

“Our old winemaker used to say, ‘Stand back. Don’t touch anything!’ And that’s actually a reasonable approach to wine making.” –Merrilee Buchanan Benson, Tyee Wine Cellars

Yamhill Valley Vineyards 1994 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

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“There is no formula in my mind to making Pinot Noir, from growing it, to picking it, to turning it into wine. That’s probably why I’m still in it.” –Stephen Cary, Yamhill Valley Vineyards

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Thanks to Julie for her interest in Sauvignon Blanc!


Sauvignon Blanc is yet another grape that carries uncertain origins. There are a number of potential parent plants, each placing its possible motherland in differing areas of the world. What we do know is that its more contemporary history roots the grape in Western France, both Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. From here the vine has traveled throughout the wine growing regions of the world.

The phylloxera outbreak of the late 1800’s deeply impacted the grapes production volume throughout Europe, resulting in vines now younger than the crisis in that region. However, the planet still showcases Sauvignon Blanc vines older than the phylloxera epidemic as cuttings were transported to Chile before the infestation of Europe. Chile remains the only country in the world never impacted by the phylloxera louse as its geography offers natural protection through the desert in the North, the mountains to the East, and the ocean on the West. As a result, some of the oldest vines in the world (of other grape types too) reside in the Chilean countryside.

Sauvignon Blanc Varietal Wine Reviews

Below the preferred wine from each region is reviewed through a wine review comic. However, a number of other Sauvignon Blanc varietals are also reviewed here through a text-only review. Each review is demarcated in this post with a bold title section. At the bottom of the post a brief note indicating which Sauvignon Blanc wines came out as favorites.


Sauvignon Blanc generates several world famous wines originating in Western France. In Bordeaux, the grape is one of several allowed as part of the dry white blend known as Bordeaux blanc–we’ll look at examples of such blends next week. It also plays a key role in the sweet wine blend, Sauternes (another we’ll look at next week). In the Loire Valley the wine is most well known for its production focus as Sancerre.

White Sancerre brings a mineral focus, and elegance to the grape, cultivating Sauvignon Blanc in either chalk or flint soil, both of which can be sensed in the final varietal when fermentation temperatures are kept high. While flint tends to offer leaner, long lived renditions, chalk instead generates a wine, by comparison, with a heftier body and mouth feel. Sancerre is generally placed in Stainless Steel vats for fermentation, thus abstaining from any oak influence on the flavors or aging potential of the wine.

By many, Sancerre is considered one of the most elegant, dry, and pleasing white wines in the world.

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Wine Review: Daniel Chotard 2009 Sancerre Imported by Kermit Lynch

Sancerre is generally understood to be less grassy than other varietals from this grape. This Chotard is no exception. The fruits are distinct, and pleasant, carrying noticeable and refreshing flinty minerals. Subtle white flowers lift the citrus, and slight tropical scents and flavors profile. The acidity here is also pleasing, bringing a nice mouth watering crispness to the fruit.

More on France

Though Bordeaux and Loire Valley are the largest production areas for this variety, it is grown throughout the country with differing styles of wine resulting. Though it does not play a huge role there, Sauvignon Blanc is one of the many grapes grown in the Languedoc-Rouissillon region of the South.

Wine Review: JeanJean 2010 Sauvignon Blanc Languedoc

This wine from JeanJean offers a clean, fresh fruit focused varietal with medium complexity, and finish. The nose hosts Meyer lemon, lime, passion fruit, and scents of honey suckle. On the mouth, you find Meyer lemon, lime, and tropical fruits. Refreshing, approachable, and pleasing to drink.

Though I did not draw a wine comic for the JeanJean, if you are looking for a Sauvignon Blanc to drink, this wine is recommended. I appreciate the clean, citrus focused, mouth watering elements of this wine.


Introduced to California in the 1880’s, Sauvignon Blanc went through a long period of being out of favor in North America. This reputation was changed when Robert Mondavi coined a new name for it–Fume Blanc–and marketed it as an exciting new dry white alternative to chardonnay. The pitch worked.

The Fume Blanc name is unregulated through the state, thus allowing wine makers to choose if they’ll sell their wine under the varietal name, or the Mondavi nickname. Because of the lack of regulation the production style with either moniker can vary widely.

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Wine Review: Hanna 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley

The grassy elements common to Sauvignon Blanc show lightly in the Hanna. They are well-balanced with fruit elements, and acidity that offers distinctive, recognizable fruit flavors. Fresh citrus, and light lychee notes dance in the nose, while citrus zing into balance with deepening melon flavors on the palate. The wine also showcases crisp pear as it warms. This wine is very refreshing both for its well-defined flavors, and fresh fruit focus, as well as the mouth watering acidity. Well-balanced, fresh, and crisp varietal here.

Wine Review: Frog’s Leap 2010 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc

I want to note that I appreciate the humor offered from the Frog’s Leap label that puts the words “open other end” near the bottom, as if anyone could open the bottom of a bottle without simply breaking it. In the midst of wine tasting I appreciated finding the subtle humor.

The Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc (SB), however, was my least favorite of the many SB varietals I tasted. Sauvignon Blanc does best in climates where the temperature at any one part of the day does not reach too high–in more extreme conditions the grape tends to ripen quickly resulting in less distinct flavor components in the final wine. Here we find mushy flavors–they are not distinct or crisp, and instead traverse your palate as washed out fruit. The nose is very light with faint tropical fruits, and oak. The mouth shows a powdered candy taste alongside lime and passion fruit.

New Zealand

Though the grape was originally planted in New Zealand as an experiment to be mixed with other white varieties, here SB varietals are now famous. New Zealand established an internationally known wine industry for its strongly fruit focused, tropical notes rendition of the grape. Interestingly, production practices in the area have been strongly influenced by geography historically. Because there had only been proper production facilities on one island, while the grape was grown on both, grapes had to be transported by truck over long distances before they could be separated from their skins and pressed. As a result of the extended skin contact in transport, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc tended to offer fuller flavors and intensity in the wine.

The growing conditions here vary widely from vineyard to vineyard, thus creating very different flavor elements within the region. Still, due to the maritime climate of the long, narrow islands, the grape celebrates one of the longer growing seasons seen anywhere in the world. As a result, the New Zealand flavors tend to be ripe, rich, and full of fruit.

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Wine Review: Nine Walks 2011 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

The Nine Walks Sauvignon Blanc has a light nose of candied lime, and tropical fruits. The palate carries forward the tropical fruit with fresh lime, meyer lemon, passion fruit, and hints of pleasing pepper and oak. The minerals here are very light. This varietal is subtle in its delivery, and crisp.

Wine Review: Long Boat 2009 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

The Long Boat offers both herbs, and minerals with sage and subtle flavors of river rocks. The focus on both the nose and the palate are youthful green apple, passionfruit, and meyer lemon, along with unripe pineapple. Accents of white flowers raise the profile. The grass, and green pepper elements common to the grape variety are also present here.

Wine Review: Nautilus 2010 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

This wine shows a clear tropical fruit and citrus focus. There is also green pepper, and light oak showing themselves here. Very fruit focused wine. Not a favorite.

Wine Review: Kim Crawford 2010 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

The grass tendencies of this grape show here on both the nose, and mouth. The Kim Crawford offers the classic full flavor rendition that New Zealand is famous for. The nose has tropical fruits, and passion fruit, while the mouth continues this blend, along with some peach notes, and obvious oak-bite and heat. There is quality here but it is not my style of wine.


Recent focus has developed quality Sauvignon Blanc in Chile. The well-aged vines of the region along with the more recent focus on quality wine production in the area have combined to produce crisp, flavorful varietals. Contrasting the wines of this region against others mentioned, the Chilean Sauvignon Blancs are generally considered closer in French style, rather than New Zealand. That is, the flavors are more often refined, and cleaner with more of a tendency towards citrus and minerals, and less towards tropical fruits.

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Wine Review: Veramonte 2010 Casablanca Valley Sauvignon Blanc

Bright distinct fruit are found here in both the nose, and the mouth. Lime, meyer lemon, and passion fruit fill the nose, with them carrying forward in the mouth alongside juicy pear, and hints of tropical fruit. This wine is smooth, with a touch of spice.

Wine Review: Arenal 2009 Casablanca Valley Sauvignon Blanc

The flavors here are light, and less distinct. There are notes of candied lime in both the bouquet, and flavors, along with tart green apple, pineapple, grapefruit, light white flowers, and subtle tropical fruits. This wine offers mild heat. It is light, and smooth, showing citrus-candy flavors with a citrus bite. Not a favorite, though I’d recommend it above most of the New Zealand wines mentioned.

Varietal Characteristics: Sauvignon Blanc

Typical to this grape are fruit elements ranging from citrus and tropical fruit. Tropical fruit flavors tend to be more commonly found in New World wines, while citrus elements are generally common throughout. The grape is also known to have an herbaceous quality most commonly showing as grass, and bell pepper.

In less ripe growing seasons Sauvignon Blanc takes on an incredibly pungent (even often called aggressive) odor that people politely refer to as “cat box”, or more pointedly call “cat pee.” This characteristic is less commonly found in the varietal today as the link between this bouquet-flavor component and ripeness levels was recently discovered. Greater sun exposure in cooler climates is one solution to avoiding such flavor elements. In other words, cat box characteristics occur due to temperature, and sun exposure related growing conditions, and are not considered a flaw in the wine. For some, the quality is desirable.

Though the grape is most widely produced in Bordeaux, Loire Valley, California, New Zealand, and Chile, it is also found in small production numbers in South Africa, small portions of Australia, and in other areas of Europe.

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Which SB Wines Win?

Along with the JeanJean, the four wine review comics indicate my favorites of those tasted. Of the styles addressed here, Sancerre is my preference, with the clean, mouth watering qualities of the JeanJean, and the Hanna being next.


Monday will consider a side-by-side wine tasting of two very different Semillons, one offered young from Barossa Valley, Australia, and the other an older release from California.

The rest of next week will explore the commonly side-by-side relationship of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon through a comparison of Bordeaux blanc blends (from Bordeaux, and from elsewhere), and then of late harvest wines in both blended and varietal versions of the two grapes.

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