Monday, 14 June 2010

World Cup Wines. Day Five. New Zealand vs Slovakia


New Zealand needs little introduction. Its Sauvignon Blanc is unarguably a modern classic - a brilliant evolution, revolution, of an Old World variety every bit as profound as the artificially oaked Aussie Chardonnays that originally set aside Antipodean winemaking from the humdrum. 

Time was we couldn't get enough of the stuff, and the same fate that befell Australian Chardonnay is now threatening NZ Sauvignon. In a nutshell: too much of a good thing. Familiarity breeds contempt. 

Time was when a supermarket would carry a single entry level Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc. Then there were two. We learned to look out for the Marlborough variety, and we usually found the original pioneer, Montana. Now we see three or four, not just labelled Marlborough but also Wairau Valley.  

There have been a couple of sniffy articles in the press. Even Cloudy Bay has not been immune. Soon the fashionistas will jump on the bandwagon. The snobs that ganged up to form the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) club will be circling round New Zealand's finest export - Dame Kiri Te Kenawa and Hayley Westernra not withstanding - with the same opportunistic glint in their eyes, looking for the chance to sneer, to be seen to be the champion of the next big thing. At the moment it's probably still Pinot Grigio. Briefly Viognier looked the likeliest candidate. Hey ho. Let them do their worst. NB. I expect rosé - one rosé in particular - to be the next big thing.

My advice is to have nothing to do with it. Oz Clarke, whose palate is the envy of many a Master of Wine, has suggested New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is the best in the world. It probably is. Even everyday easy drinking examples can open up with fragrant herbaceous scents, offer weight on the palate and be fruit packed with zingy and zesty lemons and limes. As you climb the premium ladder the flavours intensify with fresh green capsicums, elderflowers, rich gooseberries, guava, mango, and ripe, heady and pungent asparagus. It is delicious stuff.

Slovakia does need an introduction. Where is it? It's really the start of Eastern Europe, being bordered by Austria to the West and the Czech Republic, then surrounded by Ukraine, Poland and Hungary. On January 1, 1993 its federation with the Czech Rebulic was finally officially dissolved and it became an independent sovereign state. Slovakia produces a truly great wine, although most wine drinkers would be familiar with it through its Hungarian expression: Tokay. The Tokajsky wine from Slovakia has its historical roots in the Tokaj wine region, a small part of which was originally within the Kingdom of Hungary. 

Slovakia only produces about 10% of the volume offered by Hungary so its harder to track down their take on  one of the world's great dessert wines. 

Tokaj & Co is the biggest producer with some 290 hectares of vineyards giving up to 300,000 50cl bottles from their own Furmint, Lipovina and Yellow Muscat grapes. Tokaj Tokajské Samorodné is the recommended sweet dessert version, matured in oak for three years in tufa cellars. Lovely luscious stuff.

New Zealand are about 8/1 to beat Slovakia. I've yet to be right, so the Kiwis to win!

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