Here we go, in the bag again

By Celia Strong

More precisely, here we go again with our brown bags. And the wines in them. As we’ve talked about once or twice before, with my group of friends who get together, mostly once a month, to taste. Every year we do our schedule of what we’re going to taste. And every year, either in July, or August, or September, we put the bags onto New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. Partly because we really like them, but mostly because the weather in these months is very conducive to enjoying really cold, really crisp wines. We figure Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand fit our needs perfectly. Of course, when the wines are picked (we have a Fairy assigned to do our picking for us) the wines do not remain all the same from year to year. There may be one or two that get repeated each year, mostly because they showed so well the year before, and then all the new ones that our Fairy has found since the last tasting of this category. All I know is every year there is a new favorite wine or two, and we always think it’s one of our best tastings of the year. And, it’s really fun to taste just what’s in our glass.  Not preconceptions from the names on the bottles.  Fun and harder in a way because you have to pay attention to what’s going on in your mouth with each wine.

Just to add to our learning, our procedure is to go through all six wines, poured in an arbitrary order, without knowing what they are. And, a second time tasting each wine after its label is revealed. Prices are not mentioned until we have all tasted each wine twice and everyone has formed an opinion of which wines they like the most. That means we all get to throw our two cents of expertise into the pot.

This year, to spice the event up a bit, we had winery descriptions of their own wines, in front of us as we tasted. So, those of us who wanted to tried to match what the winery said to what we tasted in our glasses. Mostly, we were wrong. But, at least now, I can share share our list with you.

But, wait. Some important pre-information first.  All six wines this year, besides having the Marlborough region of New Zealand in common, were all from the 2012 vintage. First time they’ve ever all been from the same vintage.  Considering all the talk about 2010 Napa Cabernets, and 2007 Burgundy, and on and on, it was really exciting to look at what a vintage in New Zealand meant. As we started to taste, we looked at the winery descriptions of their wines, and they definitely were not what we had always thought of as the flavors of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs.  Almost every wine in this category we always thought of as having grapefruit flavors. The exact thing why some of us like these wines. And why some of us don’t. But the winery descriptions all leaned toward tropical fruits, and only one or two even mentioned grapefruit. Several went to lemon, or lemongrass, and lime. But grapefruit was almost not there. Yikes. Even more fun. Reports on the 2012 vintage in New Zealand, helped explain things for us.

The harvest for the year 2012 was down eighteen percent from the year before. The spring and summer were both cooler than normal, so grape growers were expecting a smaller crop. Unfortunately, with fewer grapes, and demand for their wines up from the year before, you can guess what happens. (Yeh, you’re right.  Prices will probably go up.  Yay.)  April was the turning point for this vintage. (Remember, they harvest six months ahead of Northern Hemisphere vineyards.) There was concern whether the weather would be good enough to let the grapes ripen enough.  Lucky, lucky. April had lots of warm weather during the days and cool nights. My suspicion is, that just like weather in California like that, the grapes developed more tropical flavors. And so did their wines.

Finally, now, our list. We got our wines listed in alphabetical order. Didn’t taste them in that order, but on paper it made sense. So, first, we had Crossings Sauvignon Blanc. Grapefruit with cut grass, dried herb, and stoneflint compliment passionfruit and pungent citrus notes, vibrant intensity, lime zest, mouthwatering acidity, persistent finish. $12.99

Next, Glazebrook Sauvignon Blanc. Usually my favorite. From this producer, we hear we have a vibrant nose of honeydew melon, white peach and mango, backed with herbal notes. A lively palate with crisp lime acidity, lingering mango and passionfruit. This wine was definitely more multi-layered in its flavors. $14.99

Third on our sheets was Massimo. Lemongrass and green grass abound!  Crisp acidity, zesty lime, guava, grapefruit essence, lemon zest. Of all the six wines we tasted, this one was probably the least fruity, but we all decided a great aperitif wine because of that. I really liked this one, but others had others they liked better. $9.99

Fourth we had Momo Sauvignon Blanc. I’m not sure where this name came from (something to do with offspring), but I guess it doesn’t matter. It had pear flavors as well as passionfruit and juicy acidity. Just by saying juicy, we knew right away this wine would be a bit softer on our tongues – no zesty or racy acidity.  Most of us really liked this one, flavors and textures. $15.99

Almost done, the fifth wine on our list was Russian Jack Sauvignon Blanc. Really interesting tasting notes on this wine. In addition to passionfruit and juicy acidity, again, this winery also claimed black currant flavors. This, being a red fruit, is almost completely the domaine of red grapes. But, we did taste it. And we liked it.  OMG. We must be expanding our horizons. Oh good, though.  That’s why the brown bags. $14.99

And last, we had Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc. Passionfruit, again, a bit of minerality, limes and other tropical fruit notes. Good acidity, not juicy, but also not zesty. Style-wise not a unique wine, but it was a saver style for friends who were less experimental. Of all six, this was probably the closest to what we usual think of as a New Zealand style. $16.99

And, we did it. Like I said, guessing which wine was which by the wineries’ descriptions did not work really well.  But, we weren’t grading our papers so no one cared. After the real work of tasting was done, we all agreed another good New Zealand line up. We all really learned that even New Zealand has vintage differences in their wines. We all were proud of ourselves for tasting fairly. And proud we liked some better after our discussion. Which meant we learned something, so pat yourself on the back!  We didn’t mention pricing until the very end of the tasting.  As you can see, though, they were all grouped pretty close together. So, all was fair in wine and brown bags. And, yes, we want to do it again next year.  So, our Fairy is under contract, the brown bags are in a dry, safe place, and we’re drinking new wines. Hope you are too. Enjoy.

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