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Sauvignon Blanc is ‘as ageworthy as Pinot Noir’

High quality Sauvignon Blanc is as ageworthy as Pinot Noir, and shares a similar evolutionary trajectory, according to one leading winemaker in Marlborough.

Sauvignon Blanc is as ageworthy as Pinot Noir according to Simon Barker of Barker’s Marque Wines

Speaking to db during the 2019 International Sauvignon Blanc Celebration in Marlborough last month, Simon Barker of Barker’s Marque Wines in the Awatere Valley, said:

“We don’t talk enough about older Sauvignon and the ageability of the variety. I think it has the same peaks and troughs as Pinot Noir in the ageing process, but no one considers it. The wines evolve well if they’re good wines to start with.

“It’s great to see that winemakers are going down more of a textural and structural route with Sauvignon Blanc in order to make food friendly wines that can age.

Oak aged wines like Cloudy Bay’s Te Koko are showing another side to Sauvignon

“These wines can be a hard sell though, as they’re too funky for some and not funky enough for others.” Barker said his own winemaking style has evolved over the years to a less is more approach.

“When I was a young winemaker it was all about bells and whistles and adding things to my wines, but I’ve learnt that less is more and it’s all about the fruit. I work with oak to add an extra layer of complexity, but I’ve never gone out of my way to make edgy wines,” he said.

Brian Bicknell, chief winemaker at Mahi Wines, shares Barker’s view that New Zealand’s best Sauvignons are built to last. “I think the barrel fermented riper styles of Sauvignon can age for up to 20 years. The key now is for producers to show its quality, complexity, depth and ageability.

“Winemakers need to tell their stories and we need to get these ageworthy expressions onto the market. When a variety like Sauvignon Blanc becomes successful people have their blinkers on and think that it will all taste the same.

“Sommeliers have preconceived ideas about Sauvignon Blanc and they don’t want to take on a wine that will dominate their list. Our job is to keep their minds open so they don’t write it off.”

As for the broader picture in NZ, Bicknell believes it’s time for the industry to sharpen its focus.

“It’s healthy to ask where we’re going as an industry, as a lot the Sauvignon Blanc currently produced is pretty simple and sold at lower price points, which has led to the loss of a number of smaller labels over the years.

“We need a sharper focus when it comes to Sauvignon Blanc and should only be making wine from our best vineyard sites.

“Consumers start caring about sub-regionality at £10 and over as that’s when you start getting more character out of the wines, but I think there’s room for both the blending model and the single vineyard model in Marlborough,” he told db. One challenge when it comes to diversity within New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is the fact that the majority of winemakers work with the same UCD1 clone.

“A wider use of clones and experimentation with different rootstocks could be good for the industry in order to have a broader variety of styles.”

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