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19 April 2014

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Insider’s guide to… Marlborough

(menu)

marlborough 2012 - Cloudy-Bay---Richmond-Ranges---Marlborough.jpgBest known for its distinctive Sauvignon Blancs, this cool-climate region also produces rich Pinots and some excellent fizz, says Chris Losh.

It’s hard to believe, but 40 years ago there were no grapevines planted in Marlborough at all. This northern tip of the South Island was, essentially, cow country. But all that changed in 1973, when the wine producer Montana (now called Brancott Estate) put in the first Sauvignon Blanc vines.

It soon became obvious that this was a special region, producing a style of Sauvignon Blanc that had simply never been seen before. The wines were hugely aromatic, with an explosion of tropical fruit, capsicum and gooseberries that sent critics and the wine-buying public wild.

Farmers sold their cows and pulled out their crops, and wineries began to spring up all over the place. Marlborough quickly became New Zealand’s most influential wine region, with Marlborough Sauvignon the industry’s figurehead wine style. Incredibly, more than 70% of all New Zealand’s wine comes from this one region. No other wine-producing country is so dominated by one appellation.

The key to Marlborough is its cool climate. Temperatures during the summer rarely top the mid-20s Celsius, and drop to the mid-teens at night, which means the grapes can retain plenty of their natural acidity and freshness.

But, unlike more marginal climates in Europe (such as England), Marlborough is also reliably dry well into the autumn, which allows growers to leave their grapes on the vine without fear of the harvest being wrecked by rain. And a long, slow ripening period allows for maximum accumulation of flavours. Add together the ‘big flavours’ and ‘natural freshness’ elements and you can see why Marlborough Sauvignon tastes like it does.

About 80% of the vineyard here is dedicated to Sauvignon Blanc, with most of the rest taken up by Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. A fair bit of the latter two goes into sparkling wine production – and Marlborough has a good case for being considered the best fizz-producing area outside Champagne, making elegant, balanced wines at impressive prices.

Pinot Noir in particular, however, is also being used to make good still wine. The wines tend to be richer and more full-bodied than Burgundy, but still with fresh, juicy, strawberry fruit, and they’re reliable from one year to the next. If you’re looking for mid-priced Pinot, they’re a good bet.

Top Producers: Allan Scott, Ara Wines, Brancott Estate, Cloudy Bay, Fromm, Jackson Estate, Huia, Hunter’s, Nautilus Estate, Saint Clair Estate, Seresin Estate, Villa Maria.

marlborough 2012 - White-grapes.jpgTry these...

2011 Ara Wines Single Estate, Sauvignon Blanc

Elegant and minerally Sauvignon Blanc, half way between classic Kiwi and Sancerre.

Hunter’s Miru Miru NV

Fabulous, rich but elegant blend of Champagne grapes. Great value.

2009 Brancott Estate Pinot Noir

Light, raspberry-scented and elegant. Drink with chicken or lamb. Good chilled.

This feature was published in the autumn 2012 issue of Square Meal Lifestyle.

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