Whitehaven Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007
wine pixies

John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough

John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough.

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill

Marlborough's illustrious descendent.

Whitehaven Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Tasting Notes

Whitehaven Wine Company is headquartered in Blenheim in the heart of South Island New Zealand's Marlborough region, the country's sunniest spot and its largest wine producing area. Whitehaven, like many other wineries in the area, produces a range of varietals—Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Chardonnay—but it is Marlborough's distinctive style of Sauvignon Blanc that keeps it on the international wine map today. The style is fruit-forward and grassy—a whole lot of fun in my book—and it certainly didn't hurt a few years back when Robert Parker, Jr. became an enthusiast. It would be a mistake to compare Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc with its French antecedents in the Loire and Bordeaux, of course; it's almost as if we are talking about two different varietals. It is also true, however, that other New World Sauvignon Blancs have generally not been able to duplicate Marlborough's unique style (though certain among them—I think of Chile particularly—have been carving out their own successful stylistic niches).

Whitehaven, started in 1995 by owners Greg and Sue White and winemaker Simon Waghorn, is a relatively small company operating in a land known for huge industrial wine operations. The natural temptation would be to go with the flow and keep to the prevalent Marlborough paradigm, but Waghorn is no blatant imitator. “We think our Sauvignon Blanc has all the merits of the classic crisp Marlborough style,” he writes, but also brings a little extra to the table—a more complex set of aromas, and a little more substance to the palate.”

I agree with Waghorn as much as I applaud his succinctness. The 2007 Whitehaven Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is marketed in the United States by Gallo; 75,000 cases are imported at a suggested retail of $22. The wine is 100% Sauvignon Blanc entirely sourced from Marlborough's Wairau and Awatere Valleys. 2007 was a cooler than normal growing season. Cold-fermented in stainless steel, the juice is lees-aged three weeks after fermentation to promote a rounder, less aggressive mouthfeel than the type one usually associates with Marlborough.

The wine is light straw in color with excellent clarity; when light dances across the glass it adds tones of yellow and light green. The nose first brings gooseberry and some very fresh lemon, then layers on peach, pear and honeydew melon, white flowers and a tingle of spiciness. Yes there is an herbaceous element—fresh-cut grass—but it is rounded and well integrated. On the palate the wine brings further aromatics and a palpable tropical touch: pineapple, grapefruit and papaya, with a range of citrus: lime, lemon, and orange zest. A shade sweeter than bone dry, the wine is medium-bodied, with a good mouth-feel that is complemented by the array of fruit and the excellent manner in which all the elements hold together. The acidity works diligently through all the phases of this wine, punctuating a long, clean, fruit-filled finish with a dash of equally clean minerality. The breadth of elements I have just mentioned may lead to the idea that the wine travels in multiple and perhaps inconsistent directions, but this is not the case; the Whitehaven has a clear dramatic structure, is especially well-balanced, and is an easy wine to drink without all the fuss I've just put it through.

Is it a coincidence, or does the aggressive “punch” I and others often associate with Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc have anything to do with the region's namesake, John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough (victor in the battle of Blenheim in 1704) or to his better-known descendent Winston, who was born on the family's Blenheim estate in 1874? Though wine-loving Winston lived until 1965, it is ironic that even then, not a single vine existed in Marlborough, New Zealand. Would Winston have approved of these wines? I am sure he would have, if not for their style at least for their irrepressible personality.

Verdict: Marlborough and More
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Marlborough brings up deep references from the historical past, even as its wines are making history for themselves in the present.

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award


Whitehaven's Winemaker Simon Waghorn

Whitehaven's Winemaker Simon Waghorn.

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