[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]
When you’re in a brand new wine shop or liquor store looking at a string of unfamiliar sub-$20 labels and hoping not to take a step too far wrong, the word “Marlborough” should be a huge source of relief to you. It is the name of New Zealand’s most famous wine region, and more than maybe any other star region on Earth whose bottles you can still grab without a price cringe, it offers a very high quality floor, a strong baseline that offers confidence that even the lower-end offerings on the shelf will be somewhat well-put-together. Marlborough, located on the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island, is most renowned as the birthplace of Sauvignon Blanc’s most distinctive New World expression, that zingy, grassy, refreshingly searing style that almost anybody under 30 now associates with the grape. Producers there have locked down on that mythical combination of quality, quantity and value that make Marlborough the safest, if at times one of the more redundant, “I’ve-never-had-this-bottle-before” picks out there.
A relatively new region on the global scale, Marlborough has been on the world’s radar since the mid-1980s, but the owners of Saint Clair Family Estate have been at the wine game longer than that. Neal and Judy Ibbotson have been grape-growers on their estate since 1978, but previously sold off their crops to other wineries and didn’t decide to start making wine themselves until 1994. They opted for the name “Saint Clair” for their winery because their vineyard property was initially settled by a James Sinclair back in the day; the added words “Family Estate” are not just lip service, as all three of their children are currently involved in various aspects of the business, with one of them even designing the wines’ labels.
This is an intriguing tasting, pitting Marlborough’s bread and butter Sauvignon Blanc against another white grape that’s starting to gain acclaim in the area, Chardonnay. Enough acclaim to unseat the viticultural ruler of the region? Let’s find out. Read the rest of this entry »