By Celia Strong
Really, just the name of this week’s wine reminds of the name of an old song. And, truthfully, I’m not completely sure of the name or how the song went but, those of you who are close to my age or older will know what I mean. But, let’s get to the wine first and the song later.
We’re in New Zealand this week, for our wine so, of course, it’s a Sauvignon Blanc. Not that they don’t make other wines there, it’s just that the majority of the ones we see are Sauvignon Blanc. And let’s face it, a chilled white wine is way more refreshing in this weather. And, fortunately, there are now enough New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs in our area to choose from and they don’t all taste the same. That means for those of you who don’t like grapefruit flavors, period, there are some that don’t have it.
Going back in time a bit, New Zealand wine history goes back to the country’s colonial days. James Busby, a British resident and ardent oenologist, attempted to produce wine from his land in Waitangi as early as 1836. New Zealand’s oldest existing winery was established by French Roman Catholic missionaries in 1851 in Hawke’s Bay.
The beginnings of the New Zealand wine industry were not successful, though, for three reasons: The country’s economy was based on animal agriculture and the money made from exporting proteins; the government supported prohibition and temperance; and the majority of the population being British immigrants, preferred beer and liquor.
All three of these “deterrents” went through changes in the late 1960s and early 1970s. First, England joined the EEC in 1973 and that required the changing of trade regulations on New Zealand meats and dairy products. Also, the tradition of 6 o’clock “swill” after work ended. (Part of this change came with pubs being allowed to be open more than one hour a day after work. Can’t imagine what just one hour a day of drinking must have been like!)
The same legislative changes also let restaurants pour bottles brought in by their customers, and that meant wine with dinner. Finally, young New Zealanders started traveling outside of their country and learned to love wine.
So, New Zealand turned to grape growing and wine making — apparently an industry that was easier and more profitable than animal farming. The first vintage-labelled Sauvignon Blanc was made in 1977. With a little time and practice, they found that Marlborough, on the Southern island, was producing outstanding Sauvignon Blanc wines. These wines have the exotic aromas of New World wines from this variety and the limy acidity and pungency of Old World ones. No wonder many “experts” consider them to be the best in the world.
Before finding an almost perfect home in New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc was grown a lot in western France. Its wines from the town of Sancerre on the Loire River were some of the best white wines in France. (Interestingly, at some point in the 18th century, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc were combined to make Cabernet Sauvignon.) The maritime climate of New Zealand — with sandy soils over slate shingles — elevated Sauvignon Blanc’s popularity to new heights. Good drainage and poor fertility made for better wines. And, vines planted in stonier soils let the grapes ripen earlier and yield more lush and tropical flavors.
As we see more and taste more New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, these slight differences in soils and growing and harvesting conditions all show up as different flavors in the wines.
And now, on to this week’s wine. Its name, Arona, is a word from the Mauri language. The Mauri are Polynesian people who arrived in New Zealand, by canoe, before 1300 BC. During years of isolation, the Mauri people developed their own language and culture.
The name Mauri itself means “related to the land.” When Europeans came to New Zealand in the 17th century, they and the Mauri went through years of adjusting to each other. Currently, the Mauri culture is enjoying a revival and there are ongoing efforts to elevate their status in New Zealand laws and society.
Time now for Arona Sauvignon Blanc. Arona is a Mauri girl’s name that means “colorful.” Once you taste this wine, you’ll see why its name suits it. It has layers and layers of flavors, including stone fruits like peaches, gooseberry (a traditional description of Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc), pineapple and citrus (lime) and passion fruit. It is medium bodied with good acidity — crisp but not biting. Really, it’s a perfect example of what a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc can be.
And, not only are the flavors in this wine colorful, the label is too. It’s bright orange. The whole thing is zesty and zingy. Not a bad way to get a kick after a hot day. And only $11.99. That’s the other thing about all the new New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs that keep showing up: A lot of them have really reasonable prices.
So, what song does the name “Arona” remind me of? Like I said, I’m not completely sure of what it was, but something close to “Sharona.” And don’t ask me who sang it, because I don’t know that either. I just know the wine is great and every time I look at its name or say it, I remember a bit of the song. Enjoy.
By Celia Strong