Marlborough (September 2019)

It would be hard to exaggerate the extent to which Marlborough dominates New Zealand wine. Only 20 per cent of the country’s wine producers are based in the region, but nearly 70 per cent of the total vineyard area is clustered there. In 2019, Marlborough growers picked over 75 per cent of the national grape harvest.

Sauvignon Blanc rules, with 80 per cent of Marlborough’s vine plantings. For many overseas wine lovers, New Zealand wine is Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. However, this cool climate region also has significant plantings of Pinot Noir (10 per cent), Pinot Gris (4 per cent), Chardonnay (4 per cent) and Riesling (1 per cent), plus sizeable pockets of Sauvignon Gris, Gewürztraminer, Gruner Veltliner, Merlot, Viognier, Semillon and Syrah.

This tasting featured plenty of Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs, but bottle-fermented sparkling wines, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and rosés were also out in force. For sheer intensity, Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough is hard to beat, and the early releases from the warm, early 2019 harvest are typically aromatic and punchy.

The tasting also uncovered some highly enjoyable Sauvignon Blancs from the warm, wet 2018 and 2017 vintages, proving that the days when Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs were best – in the words of some local winemakers – “picked, pressed and pissed by Christmas,” are long gone. Riper grapes and screwcap closures have combined to produce less grassy, more ageworthy wines, that often break into full stride at 18, rather than six, months old.