Thursday, 17 February 2011

Premium Sauvignon Blanc from Australia. Are you sure?

The singlemost significant advantage enjoyed by New World winemakers over their Old World forebears is their freedom of choice. 

Yes, you can use 13 different grape varieties in Châteauneuf-du-Pape but you still have to grow the vines in the confines of the prescribed/proscribed appellation, vinify the resulting fruit according to local rules and submit the finished product for quality approval. Assuming that you're only producing as much wine as existing regulations might allow.

They do things differently in the Adelaide Hills in Australia. 

It was only 1994 when the Tweddell family moved into the Lenswood sub-region and they got permission to build a winery just two years later so by 1997 their first vintage of Nepenthe Altitude Sauvignon Blanc was already hitting the shelves. 

What dictated their choice of grapes wasn't simply tradition or terroir-ism, vinification methods weren't written in stone and they encountered no self-serving local committees of ancient wine dignitaries whose own interests might be best served by not allowing a new kid on the block.

Rather, they planted the varieties they thought would do best of all on the slopes that also suited them best. 

Now, premium Australian Sauvignon Blanc may seem something of a misnomer, especially when inevitably compared to the genre-defining varietal that New Zealand has made its own, especially in Marlborough, but the relatively high altitude of South Australia's Adelaide Hills region, the cool(er) climate and its dry growing season conspire to produce grapes that, treated properly, can be vinified into a genuine contender among quality Sauvignon Blanc.

Travellers, readers and wine drinkers alike who are familiar with the heart-stopping heat of the Australian daytime climate won't be surprised to learn that grape-picking doesn't just take place in the dark here, but actually only begins past midnight and goes on through the early hours while the night air is at its coolest.

Nepenthe Sauvignon Blanc 2010
is available in the UK in Waitrose,
Majestic Wines, Booths and
the Co-op for around £8.50
The fruit is then not only crushed and pressed but also chilled before fermentation in stainless steel, aside from a small amount fermented in French oak.

I shared a screwtop bottle - to which I hold no objection whatsoever - of the resulting and latest 2010 vintage at an eclectic dinner table whose verdict was as follows:

The Campaigner: It's very drinkable. Slightly prickly
The British Lawyer: It's all fruit
The Jamaican Canadian Lecturer: A meadow in May, it's floral and acidic
The Dutch Banker: Brings a twinkle to my eyes (he may have meant the Lecturer)
The former Trade Unionist turned Manager (Poacher turned Gamekeeper AKA Class Traitor): It's all Pear Drops (pear flavoured British boiled sweets)
The Digital Editor (no, I've no idea either): I'm getting pears too
The IT Project Manager: I don't really like white wine.

Myself? I found it the palest straw, slightly frizzante with a definite prickle on the palate, clean, with genuine tropical scents like pineapple and guava backed up by equally clean tropical fruit flavours plus the usual citrus acid and a clean sharp finish. Balanced weight and at 13% ABV very drinkable. Difficult to place in a blind tasting, definitely New World but weightier than Chile, and its flavours set it apart from New Zealand. Distinctive, elegant and original.
Designed for early drinking, we enjoyed it at dinner with a starter of muhammara and focaccia followed by an equally piquant chicken casserole with pan roasted gnocchi but it would go equally well with flavoursome fish and earthy seafood.

© 2011 John Alexander