New Zealand burst onto the international wine scene in the late 1980s with some stunning Sauvignon Blancs, lauded for their zesty zing and aromatics that summoned fields of freshly-cut grass.
Grassy aromas and flavors are rather typical of SBs (Sauvignon Blancs) grown in cooler climes - think France's Loire Valley or South Africa's Stellenbosch - but what set New Zealand's wines apart was the intoxicating blend of grass or green pepper, with crisp acidity and delicious fruit flavors such as grapefruit and gooseberry, melon and passion fruit.
These exotic new wines were primarily the product of Marlborough, situated at the northeastern end of New Zealand's South Island. Once the province of sheep, and thought too far south to produce quality wines, Marlborough has proven over the last quarter of a century to be a perfect home for Sauvignon Blanc, with loamy alluvial soils and a long growing season that lends itself to the gradual, even ripening of these thin-skinned grapes.
The herbaceous character of New Zealand's SBs make them an excellent pairing option for salads and dishes seasoned with Simon and Garfunkel favorites like parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. The wines also tend to be superb pairings for seafood, and versatile enough to accompany dishes featuring chicken and pork.
Some of the world's best Sauvignon Blancs come from Marlborough, on New Zealand's South Island — Photo courtesy of New Zealand wine
Marlborough may be New Zealand's premier growing region for Sauvignon Blanc, with roughly 80 percent of the country's plantings, but quality SBs are made in several areas, including Hawke's Bay and Gisborne on the North Island. Marlborough itself is split into two river valleys, Wairau to the north and Awatere to the south. In addition to Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough also produces very good Pinot Noir, as does Central Otago, New Zealand's southernmost wine growing region.
Blenheim is the most populous town in Marlborough, and is considered the center of New Zealand's wine growing industry. It's situated on the Wairau plain and hosts the region's annual wine festival. Top wineries in the Blenheim area include Huia Vineyards, Lawson's Dry Hills, and Allan Scott Wines.
The benchmark producer during Marlborough's heyday was Cloudy Bay Vineyards, which has since been acquired by the luxury goods syndicate LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennesy). Cloudy Bay's original winemaker, Kevin Judd, has taken his talents to Greywacke, a winery named for the local sandstone, and one of the best of the new crop of SB producers. Value-oriented consumers will also want to sample offering's from Villa Maria, one of Marlborough's most reliable standard bearers.