Decanter have just released the results of their panel review - an extensive blind tasting – of perhaps the most widespread style of wine available on UK shelves: the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (henceforth “NZSB”).
There you have four words that produce all manner of reactions among wine fans, not all of them positive. Jancis Robinson, that figurehead of wine opinion, expresses that breadth of opinion very elegantly in identifying NZSBs as “wines that are either impressively consistent or a touch boring, depending on your point of view”.
That’s definitely where I’d arrived with NZSBs – tried my fair share, know what I'm getting, time to try other flavours, I thought. No negative opinion, no real snobbery … just so many other wines to drink (it’s tough when you have 3000 at your fingertips).
So I guess I wasn’t wildly excited about the prospect of a Decanter NZSB review.
But now I am: its two standout performers have not only made me look (very) afresh at NZSBs in exhibiting a real width of style … they’ve positively made hairs stand up on my neck.
In a review of some 80 wines, two - and only two – emerge with Decanter’s hallowed ‘Exceptional’ status and 98 points to their classically-Kiwi names.
They are the Tinpot Hut Sauvignon Blanc 2016 and the Auntsfield Estate Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016.
Let us tell you more. There are three things worth saying at this point:
1) To the very best of our research, we are the only UK outlet (on-line and possibly anywhere) to have both 98-pointers: we have them both in serious numbers and at the amazing prices that we now offer for all the Decanter big-hitters.
Mandatory advert over, on with the wines…
2) The quality of these two is quite excellent. We always knew that of the Tinpot Hut: it’s been one of our established, 'go-to' favourites for some years, and has been perennially popular on-line and in-shop. Ask me to name my fave NZSB and I’d invariably have given you those two words. So, it was always going to take a very fine contender to rival it. But our new recruit, the Auntsfield, stakes that claim in spades. Whichever you choose, the Tinpot or the Auntsfield - if choose you must (see below) - there’s just no chance of being underwhelmed.
3) But here’s the big thing, and it’s surprising: these two wines are really very different. Now let’s not get totally carried away ... they are, after all, both NZSBs, so there are some obvious similarities: high-yet-delicious acidity, big (even pungent) aromas and powerful fruit. But there are two very different styles at play here, which one might couch - loosely, I grant you, but with Wimbledon approaching - as Federer vs Nadal. In the Federer box, we present the Tinpot Hut. In relative terms, the Tinpot is more refined, more subtle, lighter, sleeker and - one might argue - the more elegant. Altogether bigger, fuller, louder, more muscly and pugnacious - our Nadal, if you will - is the Auntsfield.
The flavours of the two themselves are also wholly different: the Auntsfield is more about a powerful hit and less about overt ripeness. The tastes and aromas are that bit more acidic, of gooseberry, capsicum, elderflower and grassiness - typical of NZSBs - mingled with a whole bundle of less-typical citrus fruits (we think lime and mandarin), plus light tones of tropical fruit. The Tinpot, on the other hand, is all about super-ripeness and tropicality: Grant in our Orders team still refers to it as Um Bongo a week after we did the team tasting. It positively smacks of a fruit salad from somewhere pretty hot: pineapple, mango, passion fruit, papaya perhaps and even a touch of banana. Why do we see this difference? It’s the geography and the geology, you see: the Tinpot hails from Marlborough’s Wairau Valley whose soils (light and stony) and sunlight are famed for producing riper flavours, while the Auntsfield stems from the richer soils of the adjacent Southern Valley, famed more for resulting in intensity and richness.
The Tinpot tells you its tropical tales gently while the Auntsfield speaks loudly of its zingier fruits. Based on these words, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Auntsfield is unapproachably brash: a McEnroe, perhaps. But it really works: there’s something really very harmonious about it. Like with Señor Nadal, all that power is superbly controlled.
Body – weight, viscosity, ‘mouthfeel’ – is another key difference between them. There's a greater density about the Auntsfield: it’s a bigger, fuller wine (which is not to denigrate the Tinpot; this is, I remind you, a relative thing). This we can attribute to what happened in the two wineries: the Tinpot is entirely made in stainless steel, whereas a small – but significant – proportion of the Auntsfield is barrel-fermented in seasoned oak (rather explaining the small price difference). That oak, in my view, barely changes the flavour, but does add solidity and gravitas to the wine.
In sum, these are two tremendous wines that represent great diversity and value, and present you with the possibility of a fascinating taste-off. Far be it for us to tell you what to do, but we strongly recommend a few of each to compare, contrast and thoroughly enjoy. A mixed 15 of these (in our whizzy new 15-slot super-cases) will take you through our free delivery threshold – and should provide a good few months of fun in working out which you prefer.
When you do, do let us know. Because, for us here, try as we might ... we really can’t decide…