Sips: Nobilo's wines highlight the freshness (and subtlety) of New Zealand sauvignon blancs

When I think of New Zealand sauvignon blanc, the first word that has always come to mind is “racy,” but at a dinner last night for a small group of wine writers at The Dutch, a lower Manhattan restaurant, some significant stylistic differences were highlighted. Dave Edmonds, the winemaker at Nobilo, New Zealand’s second-largest wine producer and the dinner’s sponsor,  presented three sauvignon blancs along with one of Nobilo’s pinot noirs. The sauvignons, while projecting quintessentially fresh New Zealand tastes, including lime and gooseberry and grassy notes, were subtly different and made for a fascinating comparison. Edmonds cited blending differences that reflected distinct Marlborough vineyard areas as well as vintage variation.

Nobilo’s 2010 “Icon” Sauvignon Blanc, for example, is what I would call a rather typical New Zealand sauvignon in that fresh and racy style, while the 2011 has more concentrated fruit and a richness that reflects a drier vintage. It was my favorite of the wines (and Edmonds’ as well) and demonstrated that ubiquitous New Zealand sauvignons can take on a dimension that goes well beyond their reputation as refreshing wash-down wines. The Icon line has a suggested retail price of $22. Also notable is Nobilo’s 2010 “Regional Collection” Sauvignon Blanc, which is lovely, light and subtle and a good value at $14.

The 2009 Icon Pinot Noir, also $22, packs a good deal of pinot punch for the money, showing dark cherry and spice notes and lots of earthiness. It matched well with perfectly cooked (medium rare) duck and was also a hit during dessert with devil’s food cake. I’d like to try it again in a year or two when the tannins settle down a bit more.

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