Cloudy Bay wasn’t the first winery in New Zealand to produce sauvignon blanc, but it was responsible for introducing the world to its zesty and intense charms. From the release of its first vintage in 1985, Cloudy Bay strived to be the standard bearer of a completely unexpected style of white wine, one that was capable of shock and awe. The brand’s international success made Marlborough synonymous with the grape variety and elevated New Zealand’s reputation as a quality wine producer.
The meteoric rise of these bold, flavourful wines with pungent herbal and juicy tropical fruit notes, flew in the face of a major tenet of 1980s-era wine appreciation. Back then, experts judged wines on their typicity, which is to say, how well a wine revealed the signature character of the grape variety used to make it and the region where the grapes were grown. Effectively, a quality cabernet sauvignon tasted like cabernet sauvignon.
Boisterous Marlborough sauvignon blanc didn’t behave like the mild-mannered sauvignon blancs produced in celebrated villages of France’s Loire Valley, such as Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé or Menetou-Salon. It was a different breed than what Robert Mondavi was attempting in California’s Napa Valley with his dry and elegantly textured Fume Blancs.
Marlborough’s take on sauvignon blanc was akin to Bob Dylan playing rock ‘n’ roll at the Newport Folk Festival. A new artistic direction that challenged the status quo.
Today, Marlborough’s trademark style is an international benchmark. Winemakers working with the sauvignon blanc grape use “Marlborough style” as shorthand to describe a wine with zingy acidity and telltale aromas of grapefruit and lime zest, tropical fruit and grassy or herbal accents. But even with international imitations happening everywhere, including France, Marlborough continues to captivate wine lovers. Despite continued success, the style remains vibrant, alive and new.
Now part of the French-owned LVMH group, Cloudy Bay’s winemaking practices haven’t changed much. Grape yields are kept lower for greater concentration in the finished wine. The grapes are picked early to maintain freshness. A small amount of wine is fermented in oak barrels to enhance the texture and complexity of the finished blend.
The 2022 vintage of Cloudy Bay is sporting a newly redesigned bottle, with embossed elements adding interest to a minimalist label that spells out the winery’s name, country of origin, grape variety and vintage. Just the facts. The wine is equally forthright. Despite the challenges of a cool and wet summer growing season, it shows purity, focus and that quintessential Cloudy Bay style. It’s electric.
Seven wines to try now
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2022 (New Zealand), $39.95
The 2022 vintage is a blend of 77 different components, including 5 per cent barrel-fermented wines, that results in a dry character with lovely texture and a clean, refreshing finish. Expensive, but truly expressive with pungent aromas and flavours suggesting citrus, peach and rhubarb with some gentle herbal and leafy accents. Drink now to 2025. Available in Ontario at the above price, $43.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $42.99 in Manitoba, $43.26 in Nova Scotia, $44.69 in Prince Edward Island.
Domane Wachau Terrassen Federspiel Gruner Veltliner 2021 (Austria), $20.95
Steely and fresh, this bright and intense expression of gruner veltliner is an ideal style of wine to greet the sunny days ahead. The mix of citrus, apricot and floral notes gain richness from some subtle honey and spicy notes, which carry through to a mouthwatering finish. This dry white wine is a terrific aperitif or partner for fish or seafood dishes. Drink now to 2026. Available in Ontario.
Duck Hunter Sauvignon Blanc 2021 (New Zealand), $21.95
Duck Hunter delivers an appealing expression of Marlborough sauvignon blanc, by blending 90 per cent from Wairau Valley and 10 per cent from the Awatere Valley to create a white wine with a generous ripe and tropical character. There’s enough acidity to balance the crowd-pleasing style. Drink now. Available in Ontario at the above price, $24.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta.
J. Moreau & Fils Gloire de Chablis 2021 (France), $31.95
A solid white from a challenging vintage, one of the most difficult faced by vintners in years, this is inviting on the palate with lemon and lightly spicy aromas and flavours. It shows that distinctive chardonnay character from Chablis, with focused flavours and a hint of an oyster-shell note. Classic and conventional style. Drink now. Available in Ontario at the above price, $34.99 in New Brunswick.
Manos Negras Stone Soil Malbec 2019 (Argentina), $21.95
This vineyard-focused malbec comes from the Altamira appellation in the Uco Valley, with grapes coming from plots where the soil is dotted with round white rocks and chalky surface stones. The result is a fresh and juicy red wine, with appetizing structure and terrific concentration. Drink now to 2026. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta.
Tessellae Old Vines Grenache/Syrah/Mourvèdre 2019 (France), $19.95
Consistently enjoyable, Tessellae is a blend of grenache, syrah and mourvèdre from vineyards planted more than 50 years ago near Maury in the Roussillon region of southern France. Made by Jean-Marc Lafage, this is a generously fruity red wine with juicy character and smooth texture. Full-bodied and fresh, the mix of fruit and savoury flavours are concentrated, complex and enjoyable. Drink now. Available in Ontario at the above price ($17.95 until March 26), various prices in Alberta.
William Fevre Petit Chablis 2020 (France), $31.95
A textbook expression of Chablis, this stylish chardonnay presents a mix of herbal, citrus and crushed stones aromas and flavours. It’s appealing and refined, with a lively character that’s easy to appreciate. Drink now to 2026. Available at the above price in Ontario, $34.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $36.99 in Manitoba.
Plan your weekend with our Good Taste newsletter, offering wine advice and reviews, recipes, restaurant news and more. Sign up today.