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Marlborough sauvignon shortages?

When Australia became big time wine exporters last century, they opted against Europe’s “down to village level” location-based labelling arrangements.

Instead, they decided that grape varieties should be the primary information on most labels.

Not only did that suit their embryonic industry but, they felt, it better met the needs of consumers.

Subsequently, both approaches (geographic or grape) have largely operated side-by-side – although most wine retailers’ displays have continued to be by region.

Recently, though, Asda broke that mould to become the first UK supermarket to group its wine by grape.

Research apparently told them that, for almost three quarters of UK wine shoppers, grape variety was the biggest factor in purchasing decisions.

It was a timely initiative as a snag has arisen for a big exporting nation of one of our favourite white wine grape varieties.

Spring frosts and smaller bunch sizes have seriously reduced the size of the 2021 harvest of Marlborough sauvignon blanc.

The Drinks Business tells us that Pernod Ricard (who own Brancott Estate) has “34% less Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc …. compared to the 2020 vintage, which was already lower than long term averages”

Meeting global demand for New Zealand sauvignon now looks unlikely and, where it is available, prices are likely to be high.

So, as advance planning, I decided to devote today’s regular focus on one chosen grape variety to sauvignon from anywhere other than New Zealand.

Let’s see what could be used to fill any gap in supply that might arise.

Where possible, images and hyperlinks are provided to guide you towards more information about the wines and to help you buy them.

First Stop on the Quest

South Africa is probably the first place to look as it has similar annual rainfall levels to Marlborough although it is some way further north and has higher average temperatures.

Set against that latitude and temperature data, must be the effects of the cold Antarctic currents it endures and the strong Cape Doctor winds (that can, however, reduce disease among vines – as their name implies).

Increasingly, especially cool areas south of Cape Town like Walker Bay and Elgin are acquiring reputations for varieties like sauvignon blanc (and for chardonnay and pinot noir) but their wines are not widely available here yet.

Here then is my top choice for accessible but inexpensive alternatives to Marlborough sauvignon.

Textured with a hint of sweetness, 2020 Winemaker’s Selection, Western Cape Sauvignon Blanc (£5.49 at Lidl and 12.5% abv) brings us intense melon, tropical fruit and green apple flavours partnered by a prickle of grapefruit acidity, pithy savouriness and attractive floral aromas.

Another creditable option around the same price, is Irresistible Fairtrade Sauvignon Blanc at the Co-op.

For a few pennies more

Step up the ladder a bit and you find this excellent version that combines ripeness and richness and hails from Robertson in the eastern part of South Africa’s Breede River Valley.

Geology in particular makes this good chardonnay country but cooling breezes also allow it to produce textured sauvignon like this one.  

Smooth but nicely rich and mellow, 2020 Quando Sauvignon Blanc (£8.95 at The Wine Society and 12%) provides ripe gooseberry, baked apple and tropical fruit flavours accompanied by good tangerine acidity with contrasting mint and savoury touches too.

A little less vigorous

Tradition and subtlety points us towards France’s Loire Valley for classy examples of sauvignon and few meet that need better than vines on the clay and limestone soils at the eastern end of that river.

Demand for Pouilly Fume and Sancerre (the stars of that area) is high and, inevitably, so are prices but the delicate, subdued and understated wines they offer do command the attention of wine lovers everywhere.

Restrained yet still aromantic, 2019 La Caillottes Sancerre (£15 at Sainsbury’s and 13%) has soft red apple, citrus and peach flavours married here to textured touches of mint, bell pepper and fresh acidity plus traces of sweetness built into its long, sophisticated finish. 

This will provide an alternative to premium Marlborough wines (like the brilliant Greywacke) for times when budgets have a little elasticity – but for an inexpensive example try the M&S Val De Loire Sauvignon Blanc (also sold online by Ocado at around £7).

A Left Field option

To try something more unusual, Eastern Europe can be a happy hunting ground, as this version from Slovenia testifies.

It has many more vegetable influences than typical southern hemisphere sauvignon and is a good choice to serve with one of wine’s more challenging foods – asparagus.

Interestingly, it is blended here with the similarly acidic ribolla gialla grape that does so well in that NE Italy and Slovenia corner.

Embellished with firm lime acidity and a savoury finish, 2019 Krasno Sauvignon Blanc Ribolla Gialla (from £8.49 at Majestic and 13%) delivers green pepper, celery and pear flavours supported by grapefruit verve and suggestions of jalapeno, pea shoot and white peach.

Tell me about YOUR favourites

If you have a sauvignon from outside New Zealand that you rate highly do, please, share its details with other MidWeekers via the comments part of this post.

I am especially keen to hear about reliable inexpensive examples from Chile as I know that winemakers there do provide excellent versions.

Frankly, though, none of those I tried for this post were wines I could commend with absolute confidence. 

STOP PRESS

Waitrose started a fresh “25% off” promotion yesterday so that might be the place to go for weekend wine shopping.

Fuller details on Monday but do check the retailer’s website before setting out as restrictions are sure to apply.

Drop by again for Monday’s regular post that reveals my Top Tips on what to buy now and to tells you what supermarket promotions are in place.


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Comments

8 Comments

Chris Scott

Morning Brian. Have to say that was a rather worrying subject heading that landed in the inbox there (nearly choked on my cornflakes!!)
Anyway, interesting and informative read as always and had to make me think about other SVs I’ve enjoyed. One in particular that spring to mind is one I’ve picked up a few times at Lidl through their wine tours and was only about £7 – £8 if I recall; Haraszthy Sauvignon Blanc from Hungary. Unfortunately it’s not one that’s sold all year so make have to find an outlet via my dear friend google. Verdejo from Spain is another close, to SV that is enjoyable. If all else fails I’ll just need to ask Mrs S for an increase in my pocket money and stick with Sancerre.

Stay safe and drink well

Chris

Brian Elliott

Thanks Chris. I guess we shall need to keep an eye on the next Wine Tour to see whether that Hungarian sauvignon gets another run out. Good luck with the pocket money. Hearing how to secure an increase will be almost as handy as knowing which sauvignon to buy.

Eddie Walker

Hi there. Yes that Hungarian SB from Lidl that Chris Scott mentions was very good a few weeks back. As he says it isn’t a stock bottle (as the excellent Lidl Western Cape is always on the shelf and super value for its money). So we can only hope it shows up again in a future Wine Tour. But I mainly call not to mention any SB but to suggest that the Tesco Nero D’Avola at £5.50, that you flagged up Brian a short while ago … what a lovely expression of that Sicilian grape this bottle is and until Monday next it can be part of a 25% off buy-6 that brings it down to £4 and few pennies. At this money it’s unmissable if you are a fan of the grape and where it’s from. It really is a very drinkable bottle for not a lot!!!

Brian Elliott

Good point Eddie. A great price for presentable Nero D’Avola if you ride the current offer – and multi-buys are permissible where you live. Thanks too for the endorsement of that sauvignon blanc.

Fred Chrystal

Hi Brian,
Just back from holiday and catching up with your concerns about the shortage of NZ SBs and the anticipated increase in price. I’m a lover of those, but I’m currently enjoying Laithwaites Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc which surprisingly ticks all the NZ boxes in terms of crispness and acidity without being so “in your face” as Villa Maria. It’s at the ceiling of my price range at £10.79 a bottle for a case of twelve, but well worth it.

Brian Elliott

Hope you had a good time Fred. You are right to pinpoint Bordeaux as a great source of sauvignon (and and oft neglected one) and blends with semillon are especially attractive. Price can be a problem however, Nevertheless, I will mention that Laithwaite one in next Monday’s post – which has a SA version as one of its Top Tips.

Colin

Hi, its a bit late but I queried your SB story with a friend in Marlborough who has shares in a vineyard and he tells me: “We had two late and very bad frosts on consecutive nights last November–most of the sauvignon survived but the more lucrative pinot noir was ruined”.

So good news and bad news. The best pinot is grown in Otago, of course, and I have no idea what their weather was like.

Brian Elliott

Thanks for the update Colin. That is certainly more encouraging from the sauvignon standpoint than the pessimism from some of the big players. Let’s hope your friend’s experiences also apply to other vineyards. It’s a great pity about the pinot though because Marlborough versions were beginning to find their niche and distinguish themselves from Central Otago pinot – especially as Marlborough vines age.


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