Sauvignon blanc is a splash of sunshine

Michael Muckian, Contributing writer

Sun-kissed with the flavor of tropical fruit, sauvignon blanc can also impart a hint of green peppers, gooseberries or essence of nettles — all crushed together with black currant leaves. 

Those flavor traits have been used to describe the fresh, bright flavors of a French wine grape that has grown bolder and more distinctive through its worldly travels. Its vines can now be found in Chile, South Africa, Australia and the United States. They carry with them hints of their origins, adding unique dimensions to the grape’s already distinctive character.

Sauvignon blanc attracted only moderate interest outside of France until the mid-1970s, when the first vines were planted in New Zealand’s Marlborough region on the north end of the country’s South Island. Suddenly, the wine world grew attentive to just how fine a wine the French transplant had become.

Marlborough’s cool, dry, sunny climate had a remarkable effect on the wine, showcasing the vibrancy of the fruit while tempering its natural acidity with a little more finesse. Marlborough’s sub-regions have added their own unique influences, creating a panoply of nuance and style that New Zealand, despite its late arrival to the party, can call its own.

Nothing matches lighter spring and summer appetizers and entrées quite like New Zealand Sauvignon blanc. Here are a few favorites from Marlborough’s 2013 harvest that are good choices for both formal and informal events.

The Fire Road Sauvignon Blanc ($12) is an outstanding value for the price. Bright and juicy on the palate, the flavors from winemaker Alana McGettagin explode on the palate with passion fruit, gooseberry and grapefruit overtones on the back palate. Despite its low cost, this is one of the pacesetters among the selections.

Winemaker Jeff Sinnott takes a lighter hand with his Mount Fishtail Sauvignon Blanc ($14). Compared to the Fire Road, the wine is more subtle and subdued, suggesting rather than shouting its influence and flavors. Expect the same tropical fruit profile with light acidity and a refreshing mouthfeel.

The Sherwood Estates Sauvignon Blanc ($14) shares many characteristics with its cousins. Produced from wines grown in Marlborough’s Waipara sub-region, the wine boasts a more citrusy profile along with distinct tropical fruit flavors. It’s a nice accompaniment to lighter fare.

Winemakers Matt Thomson and Hamish Clark include fruit from several sub-regions to produce the lovely Saint Clair Vicar’s Choice Sauvignon Blanc ($15). Grapes from the Rapaura area, Lower Wairau and Brancott Valley combine to give the wines their own unique characters, with aromas of grapefruit and peach and a flavor palate of passion fruit, grapefruit and a little black currant for distinction.

The Crossings Sauvignon Blanc ($15) has tapped vineyards in the Awatere Valley to produce this bright, crisp wine. Expect the usual gooseberry/passion fruit blend along with a bright acidity that make this a light, refreshing wine, well suited to accompany appetizers and light entrees.

Drylands Sauvignon Blanc ($16) sources fruit from the Gane, Gilmore and Sutherland vineyards in Marlborough’s Golden Triangle to create a well-structured wine with supple mouthfeel. Citrusy notes and tropical fruits combine with crisp acidity and a lengthy finish in this winning entry.

Founded in 1981 in the prestigious Hawke’s Bay region, Glazebrook is one of New Zealand’s first boutique wineries. The Glazebrook Sauvignon Blanc ($16) well represents the winery’s heritage. Honeydew and mango flood the tastebuds, backed by an herbal profile and a limey acidity to make the wine bright and refreshing on the palate.

Winemaker Sam Smail sets a lively tone with his Whitehaven Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($19). His reputation for crafting distinctive and critically acclaimed wines is once again showcased with this entry. Peach, gooseberry and tropical fruit dominate the wine’s palate. Its flavors are a tribute to one of the world’s finest wine-producing regions.