Sauvignon blanc: A crisp white for not-so-crisp weather

in Wine by

By Celia Strong

Yes, we all believe that sooner or later the hot humid weather will wear itself out. The calendar even agrees with us. Only problem is, we need to not melt before the heat and humidity leaves.

Being œnophiles, dry, crisp white wine is a short-term remedy.

Our wine this week comes from New Zealand, a wine-producing country that makes us think of sauvignon blancs: clean, crisp, dry, refreshing.

New Zealand, despite its huge reputation for world-class sauvignon blancs, makes less than 1 percent of the world’s total wine production.

Sauvignon blanc is the country’s most planted variety; the first vines were planted in 1979. By the 1990s, New Zealand sauvignon blancs were their flagship wines. And, all the related industries started to boom: food and wine, tourism, shipping for exports.

Superstar status in less than 20 years!

These wines are a bit different from most other sauvignon blancs. They are known for their “zing,” which complements most seafood and shellfish.

They enhance citrus notes in foods, and balance beautifully with garlic and tomato sauces. Plus, they are terrific for just drinking.

Most New Zealand sauvignon blancs are not oak-aged, or are for just a short time, and some have malolactic fermentation. Usually they are best drunk within three years of their release.

There are several styles, or flavor profiles, of New Zealand sauvignon blancs. Three are from the North Island, where the climate is warmer and milder. From the Hawke’s Bay region, they have tropical fruit flavors and a creaminess from some oak aging. Martinborough wines show intense stone fruit flavors, an herbaceous and jalapeño side, and a minerality. Gisborne gives its wines tropical fruits, like pineapple and guava and some citrus zestiness.

From the South Island, with its longer cooler growing season, the wines are more pungent, acidic and crisper.

Central Otago sauvignon blancs show passion fruit and pineapple and have crisp, stony finishes. Canterbury/Waipara wines are more citrusy, with minerality, acidity and dryness. Nelson region wines are more restrained with dominant stone fruit flavors.

And, finally, from Marlborough, we get what most of us consider to be the benchmark style. They have passion fruit and gooseberry flavors with grassy and lemongrass nuances.

By far, most of the New Zealand sauvignon blancs we get come from the Marlborough region.

But, judicious tasting of as many as we can get shows a wide range of flavors, weights and textures. We just have to keep tasting as many as we can. Educated palates are wonderful things.

Giesen, producer of our wine, is a family winery. Theo, Alex and Marcel are the three sons who grew up in Germany with their stonemason father. There, for centuries, family members had been involved with food and wine as sommeliers, restaurateurs and more.

Alex and Theo traveled to New Zealand and fell in love with it. They realized there were just a small amount of wines available there, though, mostly from the warmer North Island.

The two brothers knew the cooler climate of the South Island would be a great place to grow riesling. And, they bought their first land.

Marcel joined his brothers a few years later after getting a degree in winemaking.

The three started Giesen, at the time the world’s most southern vineyard.

Being a small winery in the small New Zealand wine industry did not deter the brothers. They loved what they were doing. Today, they have operations throughout Marlborough. Their estate sauvignon blanc, ours for this week, is sourced from 60 different vineyards, spread all over Marlborough’s Wairau Valley.

The soils are free-draining alluvial silt and loam. Yeasts strains are selected to enhance aromas and flavors. Fermentation takes two to three weeks, in low temperatures in stainless steel. By blending grapes from all their different sources, the final wine becomes very layered and complex.

It is 100 percent sauvignon blanc. Zesty and vibrant, it shows rich tropical fruit flavors of passion fruit, mango, pineapple, guava, peaches, lemons and limes. And, there is a grassy side, with herbs mixed in like basil, lime leaves and chives.

At the winery, the brothers and their staff enjoy this wine with fresh shellfish, like clams and mussels, in a simple tomato, garlic, herb broth. Hard work if you can get it!

So, as we work our way through more hot and humid days and weeks, we can look forward to this zesty, crispy, juicy, dry sauvignon blanc. It’s bound to make us feel better. For $13.99.