‘There was some trepidation with us taking on Sauvignon Blanc… it’s not the most loved variety in the trade’
That was David LeMire MW, Shaw & Smith’s Global Sales and Marketing Manager, talking about the move to dedicate this latest round of the Shaw & Smith Workshops to Sauvignon Blanc.
They needn’t worry however, as Sauv is one variety that is so rarely ‘masterclassed’ that it probably deserves a closer look, perceived trade malaise or not. Today’s lineup certainly canvassed a few shit-hot Sauvs too, across a variety of styles and regions.
Stepping back a fraction, the purpose of these workshops (this is the 3rd iteration of national tastings) is as a benchmarking exercise, an opportunity to look at the Shaw & Smith wines in a lineup of their peers.
More than just a tasting though, today’s Sauvfest produced plenty of insights too. Like this from Michael Hill Smith MW:
‘Your benchmarks for Sauvignon Blanc tend to depend on your age. If you’re old and decrepit like me you look towards Sauvignon from the Loire and Bordeaux, while some of you younger guys see it in Marlborough’ (a fascinating evolution).
Or this from David LeMire MW:
‘The genetic origin of most of NZ’ and Australia’s Sauvignon Blanc clones was the UC Davis nursery… their source was Chateau Y’quem’. (I never knew that. Intriguing)
‘Many believe that there is no more than a 3-4 picking window for Sauv’ (also David LeMire MW. Also makes sense).
As ever the star of the show was the wines, and the highly fancied imports certainly showed well today too…
A line of icons and then the rest. Or so it seemed. Admittedly the Australians did seem a step behind, but then we aren’t exactly famous for our Sauvignon Blancs…
The following wines were thus tasted (and dissected) during today’s masterclass. All were served non blind and tasted reasonably quickly. Background comments are in italics. Notes are largely as written on the day.
Pascal Jolivet Sancerre 2011
Hand and machine picked. Fermented in tank with natural yeasts at cool rather then cold temps. Full malolactic fermentation. Picked as a representation of a good modern Sancerre. RRP $42
Nice fresh grassy edge. Quite reductive on the nose and faintly metallic on palate, yet still rather ripe and even honeyed. Lots of nettle, with almost astringent acidity. Rather reductive for a Sancerre but looks creamier thanks to MLF. Nervy and stalk peppery palate, not herbaceous or notably underripe. Perhaps a fraction sharp for bigger points but certainly has a richer fruit edge to it. Not quite profound.
Didier Dagueneau Pouilly-Fume Silex 2010
Sourced from an organically farmed, ultra close planted vineyard (14,000 vines/hectare) with very low yields. Hand picked and aged in cigar shaped barrels built to the house specs. The 3rd vintage made by Didier’s son Benjamin. RRP $220
Richly wild and alive nose. Complex, creamed asparagus (but not pyrazine), yeast derived creaminess and strident, lemon juice acidity. Layers of smoky lees and barrel but also profoundly long and dry, apple juice fresh juice to finish. Superbly complex and ever changing wine of unquestioned appeal and complexity. Still achingly young and firm too. Stunning. 18.8/20 95/100
Domaine Smith Haut Lafitte Pessac-Leognan Blanc 2010
Built on a rise of gravel. 40 year old vines. Hand picked into small crates and fermented in barrel, 50% new. 12 months on lees, no fining or filtration. RRP $200+. 90% Sauvignon Blanc 5% Sauvignon Gris 5% Semillon.
Lemon drop beauty to the nose. Lemon drop, lemon custard and jasmine. Pretty. Shows the barrel a fraction via a dose of cream but lovely and lifted. Extremely dry and neutral palate is achingly backward, showing excellent purity but little besides barrel and acidity. Pithy, blinding, but not unripe, acidity. A shell now but the all important plus sign! Excellent square palate shape and linear flow. Wait! 18/20 93/100++
Cloudy Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Juice cold settled for 2-4 days before racking over a range of low to high turbidites. Mostly stainless ferment with a portion fermented in old French barriques. RRP $42
Tropical passionfruit juice. Hugely intense and jumps out of the glass. Gooseberry obviousness and rather more sweet than the wines around out. A little sweet and sour. Big and quite ripe. Already starting to mature, the fruit honeying. Great intensity but is it a compelling wine? Compelling in style. Rather sour to finish. Would look better in isolation. 17.7/20 92/100
Greywacke ‘Wild’ Marlborough Sauvignon 2011
Hand and machine harvested. Wild yeast fermented over six months in predominantly older French oak. Occasional lees stirring and 75% went through malo. 12 months in oak then a further 5 months on lees in tank. RRP $35
Showing rich, caramel leesy characters and a little toasty oak. Yeast looks very active and the sulphide character here very dominant. More new world white Burgundy than Sauvignon. Lots of creamy lees character. Has a wonderful freshness and vitality to it even if basically a Chardonnay with a twist. A winemakers Sauvignon but with a beautiful texture to it, the variety evident on the lanolin finish. I really quite enjoyed this. 18.5/20 94/100
Bay of Fires Tasmanian Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Coal River Valley sourced. Hand picked. Wild ferments in oak for some and innoculated ferments in stainless. 3 months on lees. RRP $32
Goats cheese and passionfruit on the nose. Broad and tropical palate has loads of peach and mango fruit juice. Huge intensity but all mid palate. Quite sweet. A little uncertain here but certainly a clearly varietal wine. Suffering in this lineup. 17.5/20 91/100
Shaw & Smith Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Handpicked. Crushed and lightly pressed, fermented at 10C-14C in stainless. 3 months on fine lees in tank. RRP $29
Surprised at how un juicy or herbal this is. Rather more citrus than passionfruit. Mango pulpy perhaps. Just a little weird to finish, a little reductive and odd. I’ve seen it look better than this. Good flavour ripeness but too reductive? Still coming together? Lots of questions. Worth another look. 17.5/20 91/100
Phi Lusatia Park Yarra Valley Sauvignon 2010
Fruit is hand sorted and whole bunch crushed to press. Natural yeast ferment in old oak. Malolactic fermentation and sulphured with more lees stirring. 5 months in oak. RRP $40
Quite sweaty and toasty, nutty and advanced. Wool but not lanolin. Old wool. Dud oak? Palate looks dour and quite short, leaving quickly. Quite disappointed by this. 15/20 85/100
Livio Felluga Fruili Colli Orientali Sauvignon 2011
Sourced from Rosazzo sub-region which is quite near the Slovenia/Italy border. Hand picked, destemmed and left to macerate for a short period. Must then cold settled, clarified and wild fermented in tank. RRP $36
Almond oxidative edge to it. Marzipan. Nettley palate is not profound and a bit sweet and sour, quite reductive but palate doesn’t live up to nose, everything rather advanced too. Lesser and a fraction sour but some interest. 16/20 87/100
De Martino Nuevo Mondo Maipo Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2011
Produced from 15 year old vines farmed organically in the Maipo Valley, Chile. Fermented in tank with no oak or malo.
Cool and neutral. Doesn’t have much flavour. Maturing and tiring. By the numbers Sauv only. 14.5/20 80/100