Cloudy Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006
On the thirteenth of August 1704, through a brilliant series of tactical and logistical
maneuvers, John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough, England's greatest general of the time,
defeated French and Bavarian forces in the battle of Blenheim in Bavaria, and saved Vienna
from enemy occupation (the conflict was the “War of the Spanish Succession”). Churchill
parlayed his fame and fortune into the huge English country estate he called Blenheim to
commemorate his victory. The Churchill we know better, Winston, was born at Blenheim in
1874. Winston, a great wine lover, lived until 1965, just a few years before the wine industry
in Marlborough, New Zealand (capital Blenheim) started to make news. Winston, who wrote
a multi-volume biography of the duke, would certainly have been keen to explore the wines
of the region named after his ancestor.
Marlborough, in the north of New Zealand's South Island, is the country's largest wine growing region, Sauvignon Blanc its premier grape. The Wairau Valley's Cloudy Bay Vineyards (now a subsidiary of champagne icon Veuve Clicquot, itself a part of Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) hit the world stage in the mid 1980s and has been in the forefront of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc ever since. The wine's fruit-forward positioning sets it apart from its steely Loire Valley forebears Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. (The style of wine has its fans, Robert Parker, Jr., among them, as well as its critics; I, for one, say why not enjoy both expressions of the grape?)
The pale straw green 2006 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc is first, before all else, bone dry, crisp as they come. On the nose, you get a touch of heat from the 13.5% alcohol level, but then the fruit fun begins: kiwi, gooseberry, lemongrass, fragrant grapefruit zest, all of it super-ripe. You get grassiness too, an herbaceous tinge of sweet basil, a lilting lungful of new hay, green bell pepper (capsicum), and asparagus.
In the mouth the fruit goes to work in a burst of passion fruit and ripe sweet grapefruit with overtones of mango and pineapple. The wine in turn speaks up in a tactile sense: the mouth-feel is mature, rather civilized. If I awarded points (I do not) I would chalk up several for the finish, which nicely combines that excellent mouth-feel with the ripeness of the fruit and the crispness imparted by the fruit acidity, lime being the final thought before you reach for that second glass.
My only question: would Winston have come out in favor of this style of wine, given the
family connection and all, or would he send us to the Loire with a notebook? Churchill, after
all, told us to “Swill champagne but sip claret.” As he missed the heyday of New Zealand
Sauvignon Blanc by only a single generation, he might have counseled “Try one, then the
other, then add a little diplomacy so you can enjoy them both.” With Cloudy Bay taking the
point on the New Zealand end of the negotiations, I rest certain my own Sauvignon Blanc
experience can be enriched.
Verdict: Becoming a classic
As with many quality wines, supply, demand and price don't always coordinate. Paying more to get the wine isn't always an option. Buy it when you can find it.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman
John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough and his famous descendant both believed in victory.