Montana Wines, in conjunction with the Marlborough Research Centre of Excellence, has for some time been studying the effects of terroir of the flavour profiles of Marlborough sauvignon blanc grapes. Terroir is abstract terminology but Jeff Clarke, Montana's chief winemaker, defines the word as "a situation a vine finds itself in".
They see the situation as a combination of -
- Location - which includes the physical longitude and latitude as well as maritime influences
- Aspect - which is slope, altitude and shelter
- Vineyard Design - including orientation and width of rows and plantings
- Climate - i.e. heat, sunshine, rain and wind
- Management - including pests, diseases and timing of viticulture processes including pruning and picking, and method of picking.
With vineyards scattered throughout Marlborough, and a 30-year history of producing wine in the Marlborough region, Montana's parent company Allied Domecq has been accumulating data on the differences between sauvignon blanc grapes produced from particular sites. Consequently, they say have identified three distinct sub-regions in Marlborough. They are the Rapaura subregion in the Wairau Valley, the Southern Valleys subregion in the Wairau Valley and the coastal part of the Awatere Valley subregion.
The Rapaura sub-region includes the vineyards on the plains around the village of Renwick and along Rapaura Road on the northern side of the Wairau Valley. Here the rainfall is highest (800-1000mm per year), the overall temperature is slightly warmer and the soils are young river gravel deposits. The soil is regarded as infertile.
The Southern Valleys sub-region is the southern side of the Wairau Valley, and includes the valleys where river tributaries flow from the southern range of hills into the Wairau River. These valleys include Brancott, Omaka and Waihopai. Here the rainfall is lower (600-700mm per year) , the temperature is cooler and there is more glacial outwash and clay content in the older soils that have low gravel content. The soil is regarded as semi-infertile.
The Awatere Valley is the next valley geographically south of the Wairau Valley where the Awatere River flows from the west into Clifford Bay on the east coast. This is over the hills, about 25 kilometres (15 miles) south by road from Blenheim, Marlborough's biggest town. This sub-region is the driest (500-600mm rain per year), the temperature is cool and the soils are wind blown loess over river gravels. The soil is regarded as semi-infertile.
These three areas deliver different flavour profiles.
All produce about the same amount of capsicum / gooseberry.
Rapaura has the most tropical, the least cut grass / herbal and negligible tomato stalk profiles.
The Southern Valleys has the most cut grass / herbal, very little tomato stalk and less tropical profiles than Rapaura.
Awatere has the most tomato stalk, the least tropical and the middling cut grass herbal flavours.
Now you can taste the differences in the new "Terroir Series" wines. From the three subregions. Montana has identified the best single vineyards from which to make the best sauvignon blanc wines to show off the key differences to the consumer. All have common clones and common winemaking techniques, which allows the specific site characters to be compared.
Montana Terroir Conder's Forest Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2005
from the Rapaura subregion is toasty smelling and full-flavoured with a slightly honeyed, creamy texture, underlying herbaceous notes, tropical fruit and grapefruit and a full, pungent, grainy textured finish with hints of tobacco before a grassy pungency takes over. A rich wine, it carries 14% alcohol by volume, 3.5 grams per litre of residual sugar and 7.45 grams per litre of total acidity. An inspired match is seared tuna sashimi with sorrel cress and a yuzu (Japanese citrus)and truffle dressing.
Montana Terroir Starborough Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2005
from the coastal Awatere Valley is perfumed with a musky, slightly sweaty aroma and flinty herbaceous flavours with lemon grass to the fore and a long, crisp, dry fruity finish.
It carries 14% alcohol by volume with 3.3 grams per litre of residual sugar and 7.4 grams per litre of total acidity.
This wine was fantastic with fried haloumi topped with sun dried tomato, spinach, a slice of water chestnut, a pecan nut, an orange segment and a chilli-dill dressing.
Montana Terroir Festival Block Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2005 is from the Brancott Valley. It has everything I think of as classic Marlborough, probably because it comes from the subregion where Marlborough's first sauvignon blanc grapes were planted, hence it gets the honour of Wine of the Week.
It is pale in colour with gooseberry and green apple aromas, crisp, grassy herbaceous flavours and a toasty pungency to the punchy vivacious finish.
It was a little cold when served but as it warms up becomes quite creamy in texture with abundant flavours of apples, gooseberry, capsicums, grass and herbs that have fantastic length. It carries 14.5% alcohol by volume with 3.5 grams per litre of residual sugar and 7.4 grams per litre of total acidity. Try this wine with a creamy risotto with new season asparagus and an apple and green capsicum relish - it works a treat.
All the wines are sealed with a screwcap and have a recommended retail of $22.95 per bottle.
Find out more from the Montana Wines Terroir Series page.
© Sue Courtney
16 October 2005