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JOHN ROZENTALS discovers a sauvignon blanc that breaks the Marlborough mould

February 5, 2018 Beverage No Comments Email Email

No other wine seems to ride such a precarious bow wave of success on the Australian market as does sauvignon blanc from the Marlborough region, at the north-eastern end of the South Island.

It’s fairly easy to see why it overtook chardonnay as Australia’s single-biggest wine three or four years ago.

Drinkers are confident with it. They stick there nose into a glass and know straight away what they’re got, just from the unmistakable herbaceous, tropical-fruit aroma, which some have rather ungraciously likened to cats’ pee.

Much of the wine seems to come from overcropped vineyards and lacks the palate structure to satisfy the second-glass test for many drinkers, including this one. Let alone a third-glass test!

A few vintages ago, Nautilus Estate winemaker, Clive Jones, determined to do something about the situation, making a 2015 The Paper Nautilus Sauvignon Blanc, a wine styled more like a chardonnay would be and very dependent on barrel-fermentation and maturation on yeast lees.

Personally, I applauded the attempt, but thought that Jones had gotten off at Redfern. He just hadn’t quite gone through with the job and left me wondering what might have been.

With the 2016 vintage he repeated the exercise, this time, I think, doing it properly. His 2016 The Paper Nautilus is the real deal (see tasting notes below) and I reckon joins the ranks of Cloudy Bay’s Te Koko in having broken the mould of Marlborough sauvignon and presenting a much needed new face to the variety —one which will see it beyond the cult, but possibly ephemeral, following it now has.

The name, incidentally, comes from an octopus-like cephalopod also known as an argonaut, which isn’t really a nautilus at all. The female builds a papery nautilus-like shell to live in while her eggs hatch.

The Paper Nautilus 2016 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($35): a gloriously complex dry white, showing an unmistakable sauvignon-blanc edge to the aroma but having so much more as well — and particularly pleasing depth on the palate. I like the nuttiness on the aroma, which I presume comes from maturation on yeast lees. Jones suggests matching with oysters dressed with chilli and lime. I’m not disagreeing. Yum!

Nautilus 2017 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($28): Loads of passionfruit here and good palate weight from use of fully ripe, judiciously cropped grapes. Just a tad (about 2 per cent) of the fruit was given the Paper Nautilus treatment and fermented on barrel. If you’re going to drink Marlborough savvy, I’d certainly recommend this.

Twin Islands 2017 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($18): Much more in the conventional Marlborough savvy style — and more towards its usual price-point — but at least it seems to be made from genuinely ripe fruit. No real complexity, but citrusy and pungent, with a racy finish.

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Written by John Rozentals

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