It was a pleasure to welcome Harry J. Morris to the ‘ditch to host two nights of blind tasting our way through a series of Sauvignon Blancs. It’s no surprise that the two nights sold out so quickly, as Sauvignon Blanc is such a fashionable grape, people drawn to its distinct and immediate flavours. The tastings, though, were as much about challenging perceptions of Sauvignon Blanc as confirming them. Thus, there were just two Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand, unknowingly tasted side by side, and one from the Loire; Chile, Australia, and South Africa were all represented as well, to show how widespread production of the grape is.
Most challenging of all was tasting the wines blind. Knowing what a wine is can prejudice you towards or against that wine: it could be the producer, the region, the label, or the price that pushes you towards an opinion. Not knowing anything about the wine means you have to make up your mind based on one fact alone: what the wine tastes like.
This is the order we tasted the wines in. Only Harry and I knew which wine was which – a shame for me, as I would have liked to have joined in the guessing game. Harry asked our guests to jot down notes for each wine and then at the end of the night match the wines to a list. Whoever identified the most wines correctly would win a well-deserved prize…
Maltaverne Pouilly Fumé L’Ammonite 2012 (France; £16.50)
We had to start with a French wine, from Loire, the birthplace of Sauvignon Blanc. This was the favourite wine of quite a few of the guests: it has all the identifiable aromas of the grape – citrus and grass – but is delicate and balanced, characteristic of the more traditional, old world style. Many people spotted the identity of this wine, as it is just so different from the upfront aromas of its New Zealand counterparts.
Shawsgate Bacchus (England; £17.50)
And then we threw a spanner in the works: an English wine that isn’t even made from Sauvignon Blanc. We wondered if people would notice the difference, as Bacchus is seen as Sauvingon’s English equivalent, the grape having similar herbaceous characteristics. It would have been difficult to recognise this as not being Sauvignon Blanc without knowing there was a Bacchus wine in the line-up, but the lack of piercing acidity and tropical fruits were a clue.
Tabali Reserva Especial Caliza Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (Chile; £13.50)
This wine divided opinion. From one of Chile’s coolest vineyards, right next to a desert, and thirty kilometres from the Pacific Ocean, it’s certainly an unusual wine. Earthy, salty, and very sharp zesty citrus aromas result in a distinctive, upfront wine.
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (New Zealand; £26.50)
Cloudy Bay is an iconic wine which back in the 1980s drew international interest to New Zealand wine. It was great to have this in a blind tasting, because its reputation precedes it: as soon as the label Cloudy Bay comes into view, people will already love or hate it. Tasting it blind, though, it’s another Sauvignon Blanc competing against the rest. It is an exceptional wine and a great example of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc: pungent, tomato plants, greenhouse, floral, citrus, tropical fruit, white pepper. Everyone loved this wine even before they knew what it was.
Makutu Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (New Zealand; £15)
Makutu is a ‘ditch favourite, a prime example of a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that customers just can’t get enough of. It was fascinating tasting this directly after the Cloudy Bay: which would people prefer? would Cloudy Bay justify its higher price tag? It’s not as subtle as the Cloudy Bay, with even more pungent aromas of grass and asparagus, but it’s full of character: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with a serious kick.
Mon Vieux Hells Heights Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (South Africa; £13.50)
A completely different Sauvignon Blanc, because it’s been aged in oak, which gives it a creaminess not normally associated with the grape. Here, that creaminess is really smooth and appealing, with tropical fruits, cinnamon, and baked apples. An unusual wine that proved very popular because of its difference.
Cullen Mangan Vineyard Sauvignon-Sémillon Margaret River 2011 (Australia; £25)
This was my favourite wine of the night. The blend with Sémillon is an important factor, adding a full-bodied richness to the lighter-bodied, more delicate and fragrant Sauvignon. Sémillon also takes to oak more readily, which is an important factor in the wine’s involved aromas. There’s a real deep, lasting texture and complexity to the wine, and one of our guests came up with a great way of summing it up: smoked cheese – which would be great to taste it with.
So how did people fare working out which wine was which? A number of people managed to get five out of the seven wines correct, a very impressive feat. To win their prize, Harry tested them with a tie-breaker: how many hectares of Sauvignon Blanc are planted around the world? A tough question that required a bit of guesswork! (The correct answer is 110,000ha).
Rather than this being an evening of tasting wines with very similar characteristics, as can be the case with Sauvignon Blanc, this was an eclectic, engaging line-up, showing how wines based on the same grape can be very different and individual according to region, style, or blend. And with such an amenable and knowledgeable host as Harry, these were two highly enjoyable and educational evenings.
to buy any of these wines, just visit us at the shop or give us a call on 0161 832 8222
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to read Matthew’s own blog, visit Matthew’s World of Wine and Drink