There are a few wines that are as loved and feared as Sauvignon Blanc. The local market is flooded with a variety of wines that smell like passionfruits coming from around the Tasman. The wine industry was taught to dislike the grape, while the public was captivated by its aromas. However, the tide is beginning to turn as imports are declining and local wineries emerging into the spotlight with distinct expressions that have made their distinctive marks. With varying levels of oak, new and old, as well as skin contact, little or even a lot, Australian sauvignon blanc isn’t easy to categorize, and the variety of styles that take an alternate approach that is dazzling in its variety and awe-inspiring in its high quality. It’s so good that it was decided that a Deep Dive was required. We gathered eight of the finest palates – winemakers, sommeliers, wholesalers/importers, and retailers – to give us their take on what makes today’s Australian sauvignon blanc tick.
Our panel included Tom Brushfield, Retail Manager of Union Street Wine; Yu Kurosawa, Sommelier Edwin Wine Bar; Sarah Fagan, winemaker of De Bortoli Wines; Dr. Ray Nadeson, winemaker/owner of Lethbridge Estate; Neil Hawkins, owner of the winery and winemaker The Wine Farm; Sophie Carbonneau, National Sales Manager Bibendum Wine Co.; Abby Moret, owner Atlas Vinifera; Dave Verheul chef/owner of Lesa along with Embla. The wines we tasted were all in a blind.
We brought together each “alternative” sauvignon blanc we could locate and gave our expert panel to find the wines that impressed the most. The wines were tasted blind, and the panelists each listed their top six wine choices. The following are wines that were included in the top six of the panelists’ choices in taste.
2017 Mount Mary ‘Reflexion’ Fume Blanc, Yarra Valley
It was cited as the top wine by Fagan and Hawkins, and Brushfield only had one place behind. “There are dried herbs and hints of Persian clover flowers on a restrained and tight nose,” wrote Hawkins. “Good balanced, freshness, energy as well as acidity, as well as a beautiful fruity texture. The wine is a floral affair that entices and invites you to explore to find more.” Fagan noted “slate stone, wet stones, and a hint of oyster shell” on the scent. “Plenty of interest, and not overtly varietal – seemed to be more depth to the character of the wine, rather than straightforward fruit influence.” Brushfield said: “Very fresh and youthful scent, with layers of white flowers and green apples. This is one of the more delicate wines from the tasting. However, I loved its simplicity with its heft and the character. The palate is very fresh and sharp and has a leaner and linear style, which captures minerals, fresh green herbs, raw fennel, and grapefruit that is yellow. Even though it’s still a tight wound, it’s balanced, and the energy and force of the fruit are evident. It will develop over time and become a superb but precise representation of sauvignon..”
2018 Moonlit Forest Sauvignon Blanc, Gippsland $30 RRP
“The nose is smoky and flinty, with lemon juice, saline, grapefruit, and passionfruit notes,” wrote Moret, choosing this as her favorite wine of the tasting. “Interesting mouthfeel and smooth with a creamy back palate. Excellent long-lasting and richness of flavor. Beautiful and well-balanced. Vanilla, Icy Pole mango, with a sprinkle of aromatic plants. The oak is well-balanced and cleverly used. A touch of oxidative handling possibly, well-balanced with a lovely warm length.” Fagan had this as a very close match for her most coveted wine but ended up only shading it to second place. “Clean, with slate and wet stone notes on the nose,” she wrote. “Plenty in texture likely resulted from fermentation in barrels or aging. Oyster shell scents. It’s awe-inspiring.” Carbonneau included this as one of the top six wines she rated. “The nose was initially quite subdued but then opened up on delicate notes of fresh, white-fleshed fruits and fine mineral undertones,” she wrote. “Once the wine cooled down, it swelled with lovely oyster shells, wet stones, fresh grass, and chamomile notes. A wine that requires the patience and air were great.”
2017 Squitchy Lane Fume Blanc, Yarra Valley $28 RRP
This was Carbonneau’s best wine from the tasting. “Lovely aromatics on the nose with enticing white flowers and ripe white nectarine,” she wrote. “The wine is lively and enthralling with a great mouthfeel. It has layers of depth with notes of elderflower, green apple, and feijoa. It’s a bit intense yet well-balanced. Very good bottle.” Also, it earned the top spot for Brushfield. “A riper style on the nose, with pure guava woven with passionfruit, a heady perfume with floral notes coming through in a vibrant way, not at all artificial or confected,” the writer wrote. “There aren’t any herbaceous or green edges that suggest they’re picking later in order to keep out these signatures of the varietal… On the palate, it has a nice sweet lees flavor, which balances the incredible tension and vigor that the grapefruit has. The flavor is a lot more yellow than the aromas would suggest. Overall, it’s a very pleasing and friendly style for punters.” Madison also had this among his top six. “An appealing style if you like purity,” Nadeson observed. “Greengage the citrus and plum notes that are well-balanced with an aroma that is long-lasting and fluid. Great balanced acidity as well as the phenolic structures. It is well-constructed and simple to use.”
2019 Gilbert ‘Sur Lie’ Sauvignon Blanc, Orange
The wine just missed out on the top spot for Moret. “Richly concentrated nose, perfumed oak, tropical notes, icy poles, a little smoky/cedary,” she wrote. “Lovely texture, smooth, silky, with depth and concentration. A great core of fruits. Excellent oak balance and lovely length and richness in the palate back.” Carbonneau had this at the top of her choices. “The nose is super pure and fragrant, displaying perceptible oak that adds a touch of complexity rather than overwhelms the aromas,” she observed. “The palate is racy and sexy and has attractive honeysuckle, chamomile, and green pear characteristics. The mouthfeel is long, and the flavors keep opening to reveal the wine’s evolution within the glass. It’s a wine to revisit for more.” Fagan also had this wine in her top six wines: “Aromas that are slate-like and wetstone. Fresh rain. A saline line that runs through the mouth that is refreshing. Additionally, it has a smooth palate, which gives flavor and drinkability.”
2019 Freycinet Wineglass Bay Sauvignon Blanc, Tasmania
Kurosawa’s best wine from the tasting. “Clear pale lemon in appearance,” she wrote. “The scent is a blast of tropical fruit. Guava as well as mango, pineapple, and a touch of the melon. The palate is also an abundance of tropical fruit. It is incredibly fruity, the mouthfeel is a coating, and it finishes with a touch of spice. The flavor dances around in the mouth for a few minutes before it disappears. A glass of fruit juice from the tropical region inside the glass. A breakfast sauvignon blanc!” Madison had this at the top of his picks. “A style that will polarise,” Nadeson wrote. “Intense scents of gooseberry tomato leaf and lantana. Perhaps it’s a little too excessive for certain… However, my impression is that a great flavor weight and plenty of minerality complement these overt qualities. It’s definitely turbocharged but extremely interesting, nevertheless.”