Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and why I hate it so

October 6, 2021
1 min read

Witchdoctor’s wine guru PHIL PARKER puts Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc in its place and offers an alternative.


New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Hmm. According to our wine industry PR, it is “the grape which put New Zealand on the map”. I personally tend to attribute that to plate tectonics and the hand of the Almighty.

Either way, we can’t produce enough of it to satisfy UK and US fans of the crisp, fruity acidic white wine, predominantly sourced from Marlborough. And unfortunately, Cloudy Bay, due to their carpet-bombing overseas marketing campaign, is the knee-jerk Savvy associated with NZ. My USA wine tourists used to say, “Hi. We just flew in from LA to Ahhkland. Can we go to Cloudy Bay today?”


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Our very new, raw Sauv Blancs taste like a smack in the mouth with a gooseberry-flavoured lemon. On the quiet, if you prod them with mildly sharp sticks, most of our winemakers will dismiss it as a no-brainer: squash it in the autumn, stick it in a steel tank for three months, add the SO2, bottle it, sell it in the spring.

Personally, I can’t stand it. As an aperitif, you might as well have freshly squeezed lime juice. One glass and my lips pucker, and my grumbling hiatus hernia screams out for more Losec as the rising tide of gastric lava threatens to burn a hole through my sternum.

However, some winemakers do strive for a more complex Sauvignon by introducing oak barrel ageing. This adds complexity to the flavours by softening acidity and lending a rounder character, which brings out mellow fruit flavours in the wine.

Some good examples would be Spencer Hill Nelson Reserve Fumé Sauvignon Blanc and Spade Oak ‘Voysey’ Gisborne Sauvignon Blanc.

Over time, even an unoaked Sauvignon Blanc does take on more complex flavours as the acids mellow and the strident fruit flavours change to a more vegetal character. After three years, you get complex flavours of asparagus, tinned peas, rhubarb and a rounder more integrated flavour profile.

Sauvs from Hawkes Bay, by contrast, are far more approachable in their youth, due to hotter, longer ripening time. Their flavours are softer with a hint of tropical fruits like pineapple, guava and melon; mandarin rather than lime/lemon.

I once tasted a 20-year-old Montana Sauv Blanc, and it had a wonderful mellow flavour, not unlike asparagus rolls – with that hint of buttery softness and juicy, mushy asparagus spears.

I say save the Savvy and savour.


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Originally a physiotherapist, Phil's fascination with the fermented grape juice led to the launch of his wine tour company Auckland Fine Wine & Food Tours at the turn of the century. A seasoned and well-respected wine writer, Phil's oenophilia led to the publication of his wine region guide to New Zealand, The Mad Keen Wine Buff's Road Trip (Random House).

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