Check the front label on New Zealand wine bottles these days. You’re seeing a lot of “Marlborough” on them — the hotbed for wine production on the South Island, where Sauvignon Blanc rules
Sauvignon Blanc is New Zealand’s flagship wine, outpacing Chardonnay and other aromatic whites. And let’s not forget the other star — Pinot Noir.
But the Sauvignons are unique — few wines from Bordeaux or Sonoma or Napa can match the fresh, lean, green, herbal slam of the region of Marlborough.
New Zealander Tom Maling, marketing specialist for Constellation Brands, the large wine and spirits conglomerate that owns such well-known labels as Kim Crawford, Nobilo (pronounced NAH-ba-low), Drylands and Monkey Bay, is a walking encyclopedia on viticulture and winemaking in the South Pacific Basin.
It’ doesn’t take much to get Maling going on the subject, expecially if some bottles of Kim Crawford and Nobilo are in sight. And the one point he drives home with maps and charts and tastings is style: The grape variety may be the same, along with its crisp, fresh expression, but the flavor profiles vary based on the uniqueness of the sub regions of Marlborough.
“Marlborough is not just Marlborough,” Maling said on a recent visit to Detroit.
Indeed, where the 2011 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc’s herbal nature is softer and gentler, fleshed out with tons of tropical passion fruit, grapefruit and peaches, the 2011 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc blasts the palate with its tart, lean, green personality.
The Sauvignon Blancs from Marlborough’s Central Wairau to Atwater run the gamut of aromas and flavors from white peach and melon, to passion fruit and grapefruit, to bell pepper and grass and Maling’s favorite to talk about — tomato leaf.
If you’re like me, you probably don’t sniff tomato leaves, but for Maling’s sake, and for conversation at your next party, maybe you should. Here’s a sampling of what we tasted. All the wines are available at Metro Detroit wine shops and well-stocked supermarkets, often on sale.
Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc 2011, $11-$13: This old, established brand offers a taste of the really tart, green herbaceous style packed with passion fruit, tart grapefruit and gooseberry. Check it out for tomato leaf!
Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2011, $15-$17: The herbal tones are woven through intense tropical flavors of citrus, passion fruit, gooseberry, grapefruit, melon and white peaches.
Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc 2011, $19-$21: The Icon series is produced off Nobilo’s best vineyard sites. It’s intense, deeply structured, broad, and sweet and viscous on the midpalate with a long, satisfying finish. It’s all about grass, grapefruit, lime and melon.
Nobilo Pinot Noir 2011, $16-$18: You can practically chew the cherries, plums, blackberries and chocolate woven with spicy, earthy tones and encased in acidity and silky tannins.
Nobilo Icon Pinot Noir 2010, $19-$21: The aging in 40 percent new French oak changes the whole picture. It’s spicy, smoky, cigar box and earthy, with intensity and length. The oak is integrated into the robust flavors of black cherries, raspberries, plums and cola.
Kim Crawford SP Pinot Noir 2007, $30-$32: This is a brooding, intense wine made off two vineyards in Marlborough. “SP” stands for small parcel, or small batch. It has some age on it to mature the flavors and develop structure. Think cherries, raspberries and dark plums with underlying spicy oak notes.
NEW ZEALAND FACTOIDS
Nuggets of widom from New Zealander Tom Maling:
>> Maling’s favorite food pairing with Sauvignon Blanc: blue-veined cheeses.
>> His other favorite New Zealand food: green lip mussels, big enough to fill the palm of your hand. (You can buy them at Superior Fish in Royal Oak.)
>> Maling loved our heat wave. His country is having the coldest, snowiest winter in memory.
>> Croation immigrants were key in developing the wine industry.
>> Learn more about New Zealand wines at www.nzwine.com