New Zealand is working on a multimillion dollar research project to examine the distinctive qualities of Sauvignon Blanc.

The project – funded by the government and the wine industry to the tune of NZ$16.9m over six years, NZ$9.6m of which is provided by government – is being carried out by the Marlborough Research Centre and Auckland University.

The aim of the project is to put together a basic ‘toolkit’ to develop analytical methods to measure exactly how and why New Zealand Sauvignon tastes as it does – and then to work out the best ways to exploit that knowledge commercially.

‘Consumers can identify the fruity and the green characters of Sauvignon Blanc -the classic vibrant zingy acids overlaid with passion fruit and tropical fruit flavours,’ Dr Damian Martin, a member of the research committee, told decanter.com at the London International Wine and Spirits Fair. ‘Most prefer a balance and combination of the two.’

This stage of the research is expected to last another five years. The team draws heavily on 15 years of analysis of Sauvignon Blanc carried out at Bordeaux university by consultant Denis Dubourdieu, one of the foremost experts on white wines.

The next stage will be to start looking in detail at the different viticultural and vinification techniques that will ‘dial up or down’ the most desired flavour components.

‘One of the most promising areas of research at the moment is the selection of different strains of yeast to express different aromas and flavours,’ Martin said.

Researchers are also looking at canopy management and leaf density, soil nutrition, elevation and other aspects of terroir.

Currently the research is focussed on Marlborough, but ‘once we have the measurement techniques we will take fruit and wine from other areas,’ Martin said.

He also acknowledged that there were many variables involved. Indeed, consumer panels are being set up to ascertain whether wine drinkers really do prefer the ‘classic’ Sauvignon flavours and aromas that have been identified.

At the same time, while there is no doubt that Marlborough is ‘a very good place to grow Sauvignon’, other ideal regions for the grape may yet come to the fore.

The research team is currently bidding for government money to extend the project to Pinot Noir.

Written by Adam Lechmere