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El Vino: Bottling it up may just help this time


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Sauvignon Blanc Grapes Plant Growing in Vineyard in Maryhill Washington State
Sauvignon Blanc Grapes Plant Growing in Vineyard in Maryhill Washington State

Ah, shocking Sauvignon shortage... as Sean Connery almost definitely never said – but it does sound better in his accent.

It may indeed come as a bit of a shock to fans of this green and grassy elixir to hear that New Zealand’s 2021 harvest will be a particularly small one.

As a result of a cool spring combined with late frosts, some vineyards are reporting as much as a 35 per cent reduction in volume.

Although just shy of 70 per cent of its vineyards are planted with Sauvignon Blanc, 90 per cent of wine exported is Sauvignon. Interestingly, it exports 90 per cent of its total production!

This means that one of Britain’s favourite tipples will become a relative rarity on our shelves, and almost certainly be more expensive.

The phenomenon of this peculiar style of Sauvignon from New Zealand began as far back as the early 1970s. Montana (now called Brancott Estate) planted the first vines in the Marlborough region in 1973 and the first bottles rolled off the bottling lines in 1979.

It wasn’t until a certain Cloudy Bay was founded in 1985 that the wines began to be noticed on the international stage and soon became hailed as “the world’s best Sauvignon” by wine writers such as opera-loving Oz Clarke (he used to come into branches of Oddbins back in the day and sing rather loudly to the staff, possibly after a wine tasting or two).

What sets it apart from the rest? Essentially the cool night, warm days, long growing season and free-draining alluvial soils are perfect for viticulture. So what to do as supply dries up? Importantly, don’t panic! We might not see shortages for a few months although at least one of our suppliers has started to put their Kiwi Savvy B on allocation.

Winemakers in Chile and South Africa are already trying to match the flavour profile in their Sauvignons. The two measurable compounds that New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are very high in are needed – ‘Methoxypyazines’ that give you the grassy green, leafy aromas and ‘thiols’ that do the passion fruit/grapefruit/sweaty bit. We’ll no doubt see how they get on.

Anyway, it’s perhaps a perfect opp-pour-tunity (a pun too far?) to try other New World examples (look at Elgin in South Africa, for example), go back to France and dig out a Touraine Sauvignon or Menetou-Salon (like Sancerre but slightly cheaper) or even try something different but fresh like Dry Furmint from Hungary, Vinho Verde from Portugal, Colombard from Gascony or Gruner Veltliner from Austria.

To finish and perhaps to scare you further, there are rumours that the New Zealand producers have colluded and are planning to “premium-ise” their product, upping their prices by up to 30% per cent every year for the next three. The days of sub-£10 bottles may well be numbered.

Enjoy it while you can find it – and while you can afford it!


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