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Premium New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – panel tasting results

'If it ain't broke, don't fix it', as the saying goes. Should producers risk changing something that has worked so well for them in the past? See the top wines and our experts' discussion on skin contact and sub-regional expressions.

Decanter’s experts tasted New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc over £12.99 in the August 2017 issue of Decanter magazine.

The consistent wines of Marlborough still tick all the boxes for fans of this style, says Bob Campbell MW, but the range of other regional expressions is developing too.

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The scores:

93 wines tasted

Exceptional – 2
Outstanding – 3
Highly Recommended – 25
Recommended – 38
Commended – 10
Fair – 11
Poor – 0
Faulty – 4

The judges:

Melanie Brown; Bob Campbell MW; Cameron Douglas MS

See all 93 tasting notes & scores from the panel tasting

Marlborough was responsible for 61 of the 93 wines submitted to the tasting, and Mel Brown said that regardless of the numbers, it outshone every other region.

‘It was exciting to see the quality is still there, which is ultimately what a lot of people question: whether Marlborough can retain that strength and reputation.’

Speaking as a merchant, she said it was very hard to highlight regionality to consumers in the UK, where the concept of differing styles was less evident to those used to drinking the Marlborough ‘brand’.

Bob Campbell MW said the strength of the ‘Marlborough mothership’ was uniformity of style. ‘The risk of branching into sub-regional styles in Marlborough is that you move away from that uniformity.’

Cameron Douglas MS said because Marlborough was such a strong category, it was understandable its winemakers wouldn’t want to make radical changes to a winning formula.

‘Some wines we tasted showed you could push the boundaries a little bit, but not too much. Power and pungency have to ring true, but if you’re going to use wild ferments, skin contact, oak and lees stirring, make sure there’s balance.’

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New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc Panel Tasting top scorers:


Wines from a single sub-region can achieve a narrower band of flavours and a stronger statement of style. An increasing number of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc are being labelled as sub-regional wines (Awatere Valley, Wairau Valley and Southern Valleys), adding diversity particularly at the upper end of the market.


The number of wines with an oak influence is now growing. If a small proportion of the blend, say 10%, is barrel fermented and matured, it can add richness without compromising the wine’s intense varietal aroma. Wines with overtly oaky characters, such as Cloudy Bay’s Te Koko, are a small but growing subset.


Brown’s big criticism for wines that deviated from the norm was when producers did not indicate on the label if they were barrel fermented or oak aged, which would help adventurous consumers while also avoiding surprises for traditional drinkers.

Branching out

Looking at the other regions, Douglas said Wairarapa and particularly Martinborough ‘showed a strong voice’, while both Hawke’s Bay and Central Otago were under-represented but had some ‘great wines to discover’. Brown felt the Nelson wines lacked vibrancy and those from North Canterbury ‘did not have the acidity and authentic nature I’d hoped for’.


Our experts said New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc had the ability to age very well – even though that might not have been expressed in this tasting, with most wines from 2016 and 2015 – and said they would happily cellar wines for between six and 10 years from the vintage.

Edited for Decanter.com by James Button.

This article originally appeared in Decanter magazine’s August 2017 issue

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