Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc versus French Sauvignon Blanc

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

The Marlborough Region of New Zealand

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is grown in the Marlborough Region in the North East corner of New Zealand South Island. The main town of the region is Blenheim with a latitude of 41.5280° S, 173.9614° E. The average number of sunshine hours per year being 2780, therefore, making Blenheim one of the sunniest places in New Zealand. The sunshine hours matched with the temperature profile of warm days and cool nights classes Marlborough as a cool climate wine region. In short, the climate makes the Marlborough region ideal for Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.

Marlborough New Zealand

Marlborough Wine History

The first vines planted in modern day Marlborough vine plantings were in 1973. Montana planted a German grape variety called Muller Thurgau. In 1975 the first Sauvignon Blanc was planted in the Marlborough region.  Hawkes Bay and the Auckland area had vines planted about 20 years before Marlborough. However, by 1990 Marlborough was the largest wine producing region in New Zealand.

The Marlborough region now has about 27000 hectares of vines (2020) planted. About 86% of the production being Sauvignon Blanc. Marlborough as a region accounts for about 77% of the New Zealand wine production. Export turnover of New Zealand wine industry was $1.7 billion in 2018, therefore, making the industry one of the largest in New Zealand.

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc typical characteristics

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is generally a bold wine with loads of flavour. That “boldness” is likely part of the reason these wines are so popular around the world. The hallmark high level of acidity in these wines makes them refreshing on a hot summer day and also helps them pair well with a wide variety of foods. The majority of Marlborough Sauvignon blanc is produced in large stainless steel vats, therefore retaining the flavours and acidity.

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc wines tend to produce more herbaceous and fruit-forward wines, with lush, tropical fruit flavors dominating the palate. Sandy soils impart good drainage and lower fertility, causing grapes to grow in lower, more concentrated yields. The wines are generally full-bodied and more fruit-forward, yet retain a striking acidity that keeps them fresh.

During this blog I will explore some small parcel wines that use an element of Oak Barrel fermentation which softens the acidity.

Sancerre Region in France

The Sancerre region is famous for producing wines made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Wines from France are not marketed using the grape variety as they are in New Zealand or the New World. In France wines are marketed using the region they are from. The latitude for Sancerre is 47.3296° N, 2.8399° E therefore placing it further from the equator than Marlborough. As a cool continental climate region, one of the main viticultural threats in Sancerre is springtime frost. Marlborough faces similar issues with the climate therefore requiring frost protection measures.

Sancerre typical characteristics

Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc white wines have refreshing flavours including lemon, lime, elderflower and some grassy notes. You can also detect flint in some examples. Minerality is also found in the austere dry white wines of Sancerre. Loire Sauvignon Blanc occupies the green fruit spectrum (think apple, gooseberry and cut grass), and can be floral, steely, zingy, flinty or even slightly peachy, depending on which appellation it comes from.

Sancerre-Map

Bordeaux Region in France

The latitude for Sancerre is 44.8378° N, 0.5792° W therefore placing it further from the equator than Marlborough. Bordeaux’s climate is classified as a temperate oceanic climate. Winters are cool because of the prevalence of westerly winds from the Atlantic. Summers are warm and long due to the influence from the Bay of Biscay. The average seasonal winter temperature is 7.1 °C (44.8 °F), but recent winters have been warmer than this. Frosts in the winter occur several times during a winter, but snowfall is very rare, occurring only once every three years. The average summer seasonal temperature is 20.7 °C (69.3 °F).

Bordeaux location

Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc

In Bordeaux, especially in Pessac-Léognan in the Graves region, the producers use barrel fermentation and ageing on the lees. This gives a creamy and full-bodied mouthfeel. It is less obvious varietal Sauvignon Blanc, often blended with Semillon grapes. But the wines have huge ageing potential, therefore being very different from a stainless steel fermented Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Sauvignon Blanc is so popular in Bordeaux that 20% of all the Sauvignon Blanc grapes in France are planted in Bordeaux.

Food Pairing with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc as a wine and food match was made to pair with fresh seafood. Oysters on the half shell and Sauvignon Blanc is perfection to many.

Other seafood dishes are perfect with Sauvignon Blanc, especially shellfish. Sauvignon Blanc and chicken can work, depending on the preparation. Sauvignon Blanc also makes a great match with a variety of cheeses, vegetables and salads.

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc Examples

Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc 2018

In the French tradition, their vineyard is planted in high density to encourage competition between vines and restrain vigour. This natural vigour control means the vines put more energy into the grapes, rather than the canopy therefore concentrating the berries. The vineyard is planted on Greywacke river stone soils. Fermentation occurred in 85% stainless steel and 15% old French oak barrels. The wine was then aged on fine yeast lees for 8 months with lees stirring, both of which enable Clos Henri to obtain a round New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with body and mouthfeel.

The 2018 vintage is discreet and restrained. The rich, luscious palate has a touch of well integrated oak, while a fresh acid backbone and delicate salinity lead to a mouth-watering mineral finish.

Clos-Henri-Marlborough-Sauvignon-Blanc

Rockferry Corners Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Their aim in the vineyard is to grow the best fruit they can so it can speak of its home and express its personality. To do this you need healthy vines and soil. By practicing organics and incorporating some biodynamic principles Rockferry believe they are doing their best to help achieve this and let their vineyards evolve and speak as they would like.

Clone 316 and 317 Sauvignon Blanc was hand harvested form their Corners Vineyard. The fruit was hand sorted and whole bunch pressed with the free fun juice warm settled overnight. The cloudy juice was racked to a seasoned oak cuve for indigenous fermentation. The ferment was warm 24 degrees and lasted 12 days before the wine was dry . The wine was left on full ferment lees for 9 months prior to racking and preparing for bottling.

The nose has a complex bouquet of gooseberries, fresh herbs, snow peas and kaffir lime with subtle nutty nuances. This is a bright and vibrant, sweetly fruited oak-influenced Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc with gooseberry, stonefruit and green bean flavours on a smooth, refreshing palate with crisp acidity and a long finish.

Rockferry Corners Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

Dogpoint Section 94 2013 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

Grown in the Dogpoint vineyard in the Wairau Valley where the soils are a mixture of clay and loams. All the fruit was hand picked and gently pressed to tank. Transferred to barrel for eighteen months fermentation and aging in older French Oak barrels. 100% natural ferment. Bottled without fining and only minimal filtration.

A complex full bodied style of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc with a chalky minerality and fresh herbal influence, complimented by a slightly funky reductive edge. Cellaring Drinks beautifully now or can be cellared for 3+ years

Dogpoint Section 94 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

French Sauvignon Blanc examples

Chateau Brown 2016 Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux, France

This is a very different style of wine from the New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc wines featured above. The Sauvignon Blanc fruit is grown in the Bordeaux region in the south west of France. This wine is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc (65%) and Semillon (35%), therefore adding a little more body to the wine. Alcohol fermentation in French oak barrique (mix of new and used) and ageing for 8 months in barriques with battonage twice weekly. in 2017 this Bordeaux blanc was crowned the ‘Master’ of its category by Drinks Business. This award being reserved for only the most outstanding examples in the competition.

This wine manages to successfully mix the more indulgent flavours of apricot, pineapple and vanilla custard with the tempering characters of lime zest and lemongrass that leave your mouth watering.

Chateau Brown Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux, France

Joseph Mellot Sancerre La Grande Chatelaine

A barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc from the Sancerre region of France. This is the estate’s top white wine. Domain Joseph Mellot was established in 1513 by Pierre Etienne Mellot and remains in the Mellot family to this day. Domaine Joseph Mellot is one of the most historic wine companies in the Loire. Certainly one of the most prestigious and has been key in developing vino-tourism in the Sancerre region.

The Loire Sauvignon Blanc grapes for Joseph Mellot Sancerre La Grande Chatelaine come from the estate’s oldest vines. These are planted on pebbly clay-limestone slopes which are known as “caillottes”. After hand-harvesting and careful selection the grapes are gently and slowly pressed and the juice is cold settled. The juice is barrel-fermented in French oak, 30% of which is new. The fermentation lasts between 2 and 7 months and the wine is aged a further 20 months prior to release. Barrel-fermentation and ageing lends fantastic oaky, vanilla character to the wine without being overbearing.

Joseph Mellot Sancerre La Grande Chatelaine

Henri Bourgeois ‘La Bourgeoise’ Sancerre 2016

When arriving at the winery, the grapes are directly pressed. After a settling at cold temperature, a portion of the wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks. The other portion in French oak barrels from the famous Tronçais forest. “La Bourgeoise” is patiently aged for 7–8 months in oak barrels with periodic hand stirring of the lees, before bottling.

This wine with its gun-flint aromas and spicy bouquet is subtly wooded, Rich in fruit, full-bodied, well balanced, and very reminiscent of the Sauvignon flower and grape. This wine has excellent bottle maturation potential, hence will continue to evolve for 10 to 12 years.

Sancerre La Bourgeoise

Conclusion

So the burning questions is it possible to pick the region that makes the best Sauvignon Blanc. Does France make the best Sauvignon Blanc wine, or is Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc the best? In short, the simple answer is the jury is out. There are many examples of wine judges blind tasting wines from these regions and the winner coming from different countries. There is no set answer as to which is the best, as one would expect, with different results from different competitions.

Are you curious to find out more? Therefore, take a tour around the Marlborough cellar doors with Na Clachan wine tours to taste some Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. In short we offer fantastic group wine tours. If you want something extra special, ask about our luxury private wine tours.

Look forward to seeing you on a Blenheim Wine Tour!

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