Monday, 24 January 2011

4/10 must try harder

I have been totally underwhelmed recently by the ever increasing number of identikit white wines being offered to the public.  New World sauvignon blancs seem determined to make the same mistake chardonnay producers did ten years ago - taking the characteristics which made everyone fall in love with the wine and than amplifying them to Frankenstein proportions.

The pin-sharp acidity, mineral scree, and citrus fruit structure which made New Zealand sauvignon blanc such a revelation in the last decade has now twisted into the thin yet eye-wateringly tart wines on offer today.  The same New Zealand producers who only five years ago were able to produce good accessible examples of this type are today offering wine which bears no resemblance to those earlier (and far superior) vintages.  No doubt the root cause of the New Zealand fall from grace is over-production,  but there is a worrying trend amongst other new world producers, no doubt eager to benefit from the vogue, to create wines which emulate the current offering rather than those which established the market in the first place.

Of course there are still New Zealand producers out there who remain true to what made their sauvignon blanc great - Saint Clair and Dog Point being two - but there is an increasing number who fall far short of the benchmark.

So what next for the white wine drinker: a return to oaked chardonnay?  A renaissiance of German tafelwein?  Overproduction of Cortese leading to Gavi superseding Pinot Grigio as the 20-something's weapon of choice?

I don't know what move the white wine consumer will take next, but here are some suggestions - Portuguese white receiving the recognition they deserve; some of the lesser known but equally approachable Italian whites making a play; a reappraisal of the Loire; South America finding its signature white; South African chenin blanc finally stepping forward - but no doubt whatever is next to rise to the top I sincerely hope their wines do suffer the same fate as has befallen Australian Chardonnay and New Zealand sauvignon blanc.

Palo Alto Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2010
Sainsbury's £5.00 special offer (tasted 15 January 2011)
Clear pale lemon-green in the glass and clean, youthful greenhouse aromas of geraniums and limes with mineral hints.  It is dry with high acidity, a medium body with 13% alcohol carrying grapefruit and melon flavours, still some floral notes, but the suggested minerality is replaced with more herbaceous notes.  The wine finishes with a surprisingly long length which leaves a slightly upleasent soapy after-taste.

This is a "blah" Chilean wine which hides its sins behind the deep chill it will undoubtedly be served at - it is all points and edges lacking any sophistication.

Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde 2008
The Wine Society (tasted 22 Janaury 2010)
Ever so slightly perlant this still youthful lemon coloured wine is all fresh citrus fruits and cut green peas on the nose.  It is dry, with a good level of acidity without any tannin, a light 10.5% body, and the faintest of mousse.  Lightly flavoured with sharp green apple and citrus fruit there is also the slightest dash of tropical fruit, and all finished off with a nice medium length.

Mortaro Orvieto 2008 Classico Secco DOC
Majestic Wines £6.49 (tasted 20 Janaury 2010)
This fruit-bowl youthful pale lemon-green wine brings citrus and green apple aromas.  Dry (the clue is on the label) with high acidity and a matching 13% alcohol, the body and flavours do not have the same intensity - more green citrus fruit which is helped along by some interesting (eucalyptus?) herbaceous edges through the medium length.

Some facts about Orvieto: traditionally the white wines were 40% to 60% Trebbiano Toscano blended with 15% to 25% Verdello and the balance made up of Grechetto, Canaiolo Drupeggio, and Malvesia.  In the 1990s may producers decided that due to commercial difficulties the Trebbiano and Drupeggio should be dropped out of the blend in favour of an increased percentage of Grechetto.  So far, so good, but whilst the blend described on this wine's label includes Grechetto, Verdello, Malvesia, and Drupeggio, it also names Procanio and no Trebbiano...

Procanio is a sub-variety of Trebbiano with smaller berries and bunches.  Thank you Jancis.


  1. Surely some of the good NZ Pinot Gris should get a mention or a great dry Riesling? Writing as a NZ SB addict facing an uncertain future and reaching blindly for new options. All advice welcome! Although as spring approaches so does the beckon of rose....

  2. I'd love to agree with you Jane, and in some ways I do, but why have producers seen seen fit to destroy their premier product rather than concentrating on raising the quality of their Pinot Gris and Riesling to an equal standard?

  3. I hate to agree, but you're right. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc winemakers, in most part, become chemists rather than artisans. They have lost their mojo for now, but it'll return.
    2008 vintage really hit the industry hard and together with the financial crisis, severely reduced overseas markets, thus putting pressure on wineries from every aspect.
    2010 Sauvignon Blanc has seen a return to the good old days for those that see wine, not as a commodity, but an artisinal product.
    Wineries such as Fromm, Johanneshof, Dog Point, Saint Clair, Te Whare Ra and Seresin are the true artisans of Marlborough.