We were out imbibing with a cute Kiwi couple, when the topic of New Zealand wines came up.
For those not in the know, there are many similarities between Canada and New Zealand. Sure, they play rugby instead of hockey, and their country is overrun with Hobbits, but those are minor differences.
In addition to our shared Queen and common heritage in the British Commonwealth, both countries are dwarfed by large trading partners directly to the south, namely Australia and the USA.
While travelling internationally, Kiwis are mistaken for Aussies as often as Canucks are mistaken for Yankees.
The similarities end at our respective wine industries, with Canada producing a mere 50 million litres annually, just a quarter the size of New Zealand’s wine industry, which produces 200 million litres each year.
This is not entirely surprising, as most of New Zealand’s wine country lies between the 36th and 45th parallels, while most of Canada is located above the 49th parallel, with the notable exception of the Niagara Peninsula, which produces most of Canada’s wine.
Canada is known internationally for its Ice Wine, while New Zealand’s claim to fame in the wine world is Sauvignon Blanc.
Sauvignon Blanc was originally from the Loire Valley in France, but has been planted all over the New World, and has done particularly well in New Zealand.
Interestingly, the Sauvignon Blanc grape had a poor reputation up until the 1960s, as an overly sweet wine. The stigma was so great that California growers took to calling the grape Fumé Blanc to hide its origins.
Yes, Fumé Blanc is the same grape as Sauvignon Blanc, just like Syrah from France is the same grape as Shiraz from Australia.
Luckily, the arts of vinification have improved in the last fifty years, and Sauvignon Blanc has left behind its tawdry past as a cloying sweet wine, and is now a crisp and dry white wine, the equal of any Chardonnay or Pinot Gris.
New Zealand is largely to thank for rehabilitating the image of Sauvignon Blanc, although it did take a while. The New Zealand wine industry got off to a slow start, as the population was made up of mostly beer-drinking emigrants from England, who didn’t care much for that hoity-toity wine.
Luckily, changing cultural norms due to increased international immigration and greater travel in the 1970s made the New Zealand wine industry grow by leaps and bounds. By the end of the disco era, New Zealand was producing several red Bordeaux-styled wines. However, Sauvignon Blanc plantings still made up the majority of all acres under vine, a trend which continues to this day.
The wine industry even celebrates International Sauvignon Blanc Day every May 15, which would explain all those #SauvBlanc hashtags popping up on my Twitter feed a few weeks back.
You will normally find Sauvignon Blanc bottled as a single-varietal wine, or sometimes blended with Semillon.
The mouth feel of this wine is typically light-bodied, with crisp acidity and herbaceous mineral overtones. Gooseberries and tropical fruits are common flavour descriptors, leading to the famous New Zealand wine with the unfortunate name of Cat’s Pee On A Gooseberry Bush. Despite the name, this wine sells millions of bottles worldwide, and comes in at around $15 at your local booze merchant.
Sauvignon Blanc is a very food-friendly wine, and can pair well with varied menus. I often order a Sauvignon Blanc as the first bottle when dining out, just because it is one of the few wines that can pair well with salads.
For later courses, the spiciness of Thai food, or the sharp flavours in sushi are complemented well by a Sauvignon Blanc with a robust minerality, which is more pronounced in wines grown in cooler latitudes.
Wines grown in warmer regions tend to have a more citrusy flavour, and go particularly well with artichoke dips, fish, and lamb.
If you have a Sauvignon Blanc blended with Semillon, the wine will have a more buttery and smoky finish, making it pair well with pasta with cream sauce, or even lightly smoked fish.
Kim Crawford and Rodney Strong are two of the most recognizable Sauvignon Blanc wines from New Zealand, and can be found in abundance at your local booze merchant. Pick one up today for your next garden party!