What do you think of when New Zealand Wine is mentioned? I bet your answer is sauvignon blanc, which is no surprise as it makes up a very large percentage of their crop. So try to imagine New Zealand’s wine identity without sauvignon blanc. It’s hard to do right? Well I recently had dinner with Bill Spence, a man who can imagine just that. It was Bill and his brother Ross who first planted sauvignon blanc commercially in New Zealand back in 1969. A few years later in 1974 they released the first ever commercial vintage of sauvignon blanc in New Zealand. Here’s a look at two wines from Matua that are available in the United States right now and represent excellent values.
Matua 2013 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc — This wine is 100 percent sauvignon blanc and produced entirely from fruit sourced in Marlborough. Fermentation took place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks using a range of yeasts. It sat on the lees in tank prior to the lots being blended and bottled. This wine has a suggested retail price of $13. This sauvignon blanc has a big nose loaded with gooseberry and citrus notes. The even-handed palate is rounded out by grass notes, lemon zest, and bits of Anjou pear characteristics. The finish is firm and crisp with racy acid and spice notes such as white pepper. The Matua Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is perfect as a welcome wine, aperitif, or paired with casual lighter foods.
Matua 2012 Marlborough Pinot Noir — The fruit for this wine is predominantly from Marlborough with a small contribution from Central Otago blended in. It’s entirely Pinot noir. After a cold soak lasting three days and fermentation, the wine was aged largely in stainless steel tanks while a small amount was aged in oak. This wine has a suggested retail price of $15. Tea leaf and Bing cherry aromas lead the gently alluring nose of this Pinot noir. The palate is stacked with a range of red and black cherry flavors as well as wisps of wild strawberry. A hint of anise leads the refined and silky finish along with black tea and a touch of cinnamon. This is a very enjoyable, easy to drink Pinot noir, with sufficient depth and character.
These two particular wines represent excellent values. They’re both charming, loaded with varietal character, ready to drink now, and simply tasty. But they’re just two of the wines in the Matua portfolio. Bill poured us several other wines that were equally compelling. These were offerings in the Lands & Legends tier and while they aren’t available in the US yet, they should be in the near future so look out for those as well.
Dinner with Spence was fascinating and enlightening. It’s not that often in life you can dine with someone who stood at the very beginning of a specific movement. It was fascinating learning about how sauvignon blanc went from nothing to essentially everything in New Zealand. Of course they’re also doing terrific things with Pinot noir, and it may well be that in a few decades those varietals may stand side by side at the head of New Zealand wine. For now though, sauvignon blanc is the tent pole act and Bill Spence and his brother the curators of this show in New Zealand. Thanks to them for the vision which has afforded the world lots of delectable wines.