By Celia Strong
The question is, “Have you seen Ned?” Have you? If you haven’t, it’s probably time you did. And, not just any Ned. Oh, no. This very special Ned is at the store waiting for us, calmly, quietly, and deliciously. So, let’s prepare to meet him and spend some time with him.
Ned is from New Zealand. So, our lesson begins with another look at this country and its wines. As long as New Zealand is from its most northern tip to its most southern, most of its wines come from 10 major regions located between 36 degrees and 45 degrees South. The best known of their 10 regions, by far, is Marlborough. And, I would guess that almost all of us have tasted at least one wine from there.
Vine growing and wine making in New Zealand goes back to the first half of the 19th century. As early as 1836, British resident, and avid œnologist, James Busby attempted to make wine from his land in Waitangi. In 1851, French Roman Catholic Missionaries established what is now the country’s oldest winery at Hawke’s Bay. You might remember from the last time we looked at a New Zealand wine that their citizens were more interested in drinking beer and liquor, and federal legislation was passed that encouraged animal farming for exporting protein over mere wine.
The non-supportive laws and attitudes all had subtle changes in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Part of these changes were helped by the fact that vine growing and the products from the vines had far better profits in them. (Money talks, you know.) Once wine got its first little toe in, all the rest sort of just followed. What had been one hour of heavy liquor and beer drinking each day after work became a glass or two of sipping and tasting. And restaurants started letting their customers bring bottles of wine to enjoy with their meals. (And, the next step was they started selling wine with the meals. Money talks.)
The first wines made in New Zealand were vintage dated, but copied Australian styles. Young New Zealanders, though, travelled and lived and worked overseas, mostly in Europe. They brought home not only a thirst for wine but also the lifestyle that supports a wine industry.
The first New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was made in 1977. Success with Cabernet wines from Aukland and Hawke’s Bay really peaked an interest in the new industry, financially and commercially. For a short while, there was a bit too much New Zealand wine, not all good. But, quality won out, a “kiwi” style started to be noticed, and, lucky for us, a new world of Sauvignon Blanc was born.
Many wine critics consider New Zealand to be the home of the world’s best Sauvignon Blanc wines. Interestingly, these wines are said to be a combination the best of Old Word pungency and limy acidity (like Sancerre from the Loire Valley) and New World exotic aromas. One critic is credited with saying that tasting your first New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was like having sex for the first time.
The key to growing Sauvignon Blanc grapes is in the climate and soil. Its first plantings in New Zealand, in the 1970’s, were experimental — growers wanted to see how it would blend with Muller-Thurgau. The phrase “crisp, elegant and fresh” is used to describe good Sauvignon Blanc, and depending on climate, it can range from aggressively grassy to sweetly tropical. The maritime climate of most of New Zealand is very friendly for this variety. Sandy soils with good drainage and poor fertility encourage the vines to concentrate their flavors in fewer grapes. Heavier soils produce more herbaceous wines because the grapes can ripen later. Grapes from stonier soils ripen earlier and have more lush and tropical flavors. This variety traces its origins to western France. It is, you might remember, one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Across the regions of New Zealand, the decision when to harvest has to be made by each winemaker. And, the different decisions they make result in the unique styles of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. The asparagus, gooseberry and green flavors are commonly associated with these wines when they come from cooler climate grapes. Riper flavors, like passion fruit, come from warmer climates.
So, Marlborough is the well known New Zealand wine region, especially for Sauvignon Blanc. And, within the region we can find many different sets of soils and climates. So, within this one region we can acquire different styes of wines. Originally, we all thought that a “grapefruity” character was part of all New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. And, for the most part, we like them. But, options appear in all industries, and wine is no different. Now, even within the world of Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs, there are differences. And we, the lucky ones, get to keep trying them.
The Waihopai River is in the Marlborough region and it is from here that we get this week’s wine. “The Ned” is its name. This wine is the idea of Brent Marris, a Kiwi grower who makes wines for the middle classes. (In fact, Brent’s father, John, was one of the first pioneers to plant vines in Marlborough soil.)
Brent has properties in New Zealand, one of them being a vineyard called Marisco — the source for the Sauvignon Blanc grapes that make The Ned. In the last five years, The Ned has gone from never being heard of to being one of the most popular whites, particularly in England. Wine writers there describe how orange recycling bins, when left in front of peoples’ houses for pickup, always have New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc empties and, nine times out of ten, empty bottles of The Ned in middle class neighborhoods. Why middle class? Because Brent Marris is making an affordable wine so that everyone can enjoy a good wine. Half of all The Ned made is sent to England. (No need to get nervous, though. Only half of it, I said.) The Ned is selling like gangbusters!
This wine is crisp and fresh. The vineyards for its grapes are located along the Waihopai River on the southern side of the valley. Remember, in the Southern Hemisphere, the southern slopes are cooler, not warmer like here. The river runs through the 650 plus acre vineyard that has shingle-based soil. The river and soil stones give the wine a gun flint minerality.
The Ned is pale straw colored with hints of olive green. It has aromas of lemongrass, fresh cut herbs and bits of passion fruit — a complex wine with an exceptional combination of flavors.
Marris’ Marisco Winery has been named “New Zealand Winery of the Year.” And we get The Ned Sauvignon Blanc for $10.97 a bottle. A nice price for all of us deemed to be middle class. And, for those of us who like New Zealand wines, we know this is a good price for one. Especially one that is this complex and layered in its flavors and textures. No wonder The Ned is going gangbusters! Enjoy.