Trendy pure fun in a wine glass
For those of us who love living in the temperate zone, the rights of spring are among our most beloved pleasures. This is a season of rebirth and rejuvenation when the darkness and chills of winter dissipate and the days get longer, sunnier and warmer and there's no greater sensorial harbinger of early spring than the aromas of blooming flowers and freshly cut grass. My column this week will focus on the latter or more succinctly on wines with aromas of freshly cut grass.
Grassy is a tasting term usually linked to aromatic wines with distinct smells of freshly mown grass. Most grassy wines have pronounced acidity and a pleasant herbaceous element that is similar to grass that's just been cut. Technically, these sensations come from a flavor compound known as methoxypyrazines that are found in wines as well as in fresh grass.
Subtle aromas and occasionally secondary and tertiary flavors of grass in young white wines is a desirable quality, while overt grassiness is bad. A healthy dose of fruitiness is desired to offset and balance grassiness in a wine.
Several white grape varieties are known for making pleasingly quenchable wines with grassy sensations. These include Semillon, Sylvaner (also known in Germany as Gruner Sylvaner), Albarino and to a lesser extend Riesling, Chenin Blanc and even occasionally young Nebbiolo red wines. Yet if forced to pick the grassiest of all wine grapes, I'd unhesitatingly say Sauvignon Blanc.
In wine 101 classes students are taught that one signature descriptor of the popular white variety Sauvignon Blanc is grassiness. Our queen of grass also has a compelling tale.
Sauvignon Blanc originated in the Gironde area of southwest France in the 17th century and is most likely a descendant of the more ancient variety Savagnin. Intriguingly it's also the mother of Cabernet Sauvignon with the father being Cabernet Franc.
In the Old World, the Sauvignon Blanc grape makes some of the world's best white wines, most notably in Bordeaux where it is most often blended with a minority of contribution of Semillon and also in the Loire where it's used to make stylish single variety wines under the names Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume. Many New World regions also produce Sauvignon Blanc.
It's fair to say that New World Sauvignon Blancs tend to offer more overt sensations of grass than their Old World counterparts and arguably the grassiest of all Sauvignon Blancs comes from the cool climates of New Zealand.
Perched on the northeastern tip of South Island, Marlborough is the largest New Zealand wine region making two-thirds of all New Zealand wines. Most these wines are Sauvignon Blanc. Like Malbec in Mendoza, Albarino in Rias Byass and Syrah in the Northern Rhone, Sauvignon Blanc in Marlborough overwhelmingly defines its region.
Sauvignon Blanc remains dominant accounting for over 80 percent of vineyard surface area and more than 85 percent of regional production. Recently, producers have made an effort to expand their varietal offerings but planting more Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling. Three major wine subregions in Marlborough recognized for their Sauvignon Blanc wines are Wairau Valley, Southern Valleys and Awatere Valley.
Vines were first planted in Marlborough in 1974 when the area was mostly covered by fruit orchards and grassy fields for grazing sheep. A little over a decade later the Sauvignon Blanc of Marlborough had exploded on the global wine scene captures the hearts of wine lovers and wine critics. The unprecedented exponential success of these wines is due to an extremely favorable climate that makes wines with unique aromatic and flavor profiles.
Surrounded by rough and beautiful hills and mountains, Marlborough is cool climate region with hot sunny days during the growing season. In the late afternoon and evening the heat is tempered by ocean breezes that cool the vines and contribute to a long growing season. The geographically young alluvial and gravel soils have low fertility and good drainage. Collectively, the climate and soils make Marlborough a paradise for the Sauvignon Blanc variety.
Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs are not only the biggest Kiwi success story, they are also perfect for springtime sipping because they offer all the new and exuberant liveliness and freshness we associate with the season of rebirth. Good examples typically include tropical fruit, gooseberry, lime, passion fruit and fresh grass sensations that aromatically jump out of your glass and explode in your mouth. Stylistically, they are among the world's most extroverted and easily identifiable wines.
Vibrant Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc wines pair beautifully with a wide variety of fresh spring salads, zesty vegetable creations as well as roasted and BBQ white meats. The bold fruitiness and extroverted nature of these wines also make them lovely companions to many moderate to medium spicy Chinese and Southeast Asian dishes.
There are numerous fine Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc wines available in Shanghai with some of my personal favorites made by Auntsfield, Tohu, Craggy Range, Villa Maria, Saint Clair, Kim Crawford and Tiki. I suggest serving the wines nicely-chilled, about 8 degrees Celsius.
So in these particularly trying times as you're longingly gazing out your window desiring to partake of nature's spring-time glory, release your palate from lockdown by experiencing the beauty of freshly cut grass in a glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
Where to buy
Auntsfield Marlborough Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc
Craggy Range Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
Catalina Sounds Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
Villa Maria Private Bin Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
Matua Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc