I’d like to think that my near permanent thirst for wine is somehow matched by my equally persistent thirst for more knowledge about it. I am, as a result, wont to indulge in research at every opportunity – you know, the kind of research that involves drinking the stuff.
So, when I was invited recently to not only sample a selection of wines from Cloudy Bay, but to meet their viticulturist Siobán Harnett, I was hardly going to say no. The fact that this invitation also involved eating in Michelin-starred Guilbaud’s again was, er, a bonus – admittedly one that you might actually sell your granny for. None of your fried dandelions on the menu here, no sirree. Instead a range of delicate and impressive eats, designed to complement the ever elegant liquids of Cloudy Bay.
Located in the Marlborough region and best known for its flagship sauvignon blanc, Cloudy Bay was one of the first widely exported New Zealand wines. It doesn’t live in the cheap bracket, but mention Cloudy Bay to anyone involved in the business of importing wine here and you will quickly find that it has a dedicated and enthusiastic following.
As viticulturist, Siobán’s job is to grow grapes of the type, quantity, quality and taste profile required for making Cloudy Bay wines. Listening to her, you come to realise that behind every great winemaker is a great viticulturist, one who knows the soil and vines intimately and understands the minutiae of the effects wrought by the weather experienced during every growing season.
The wines, too, she knows well, and like any good matchmaker, she made the appropriate introductions and let us get on with the job of getting know each other. It was a pleasure to meet them all, from the crisp, sparkling Pelorus and the silky 2006 Chardonnay to the beautifully smooth 2007 Pinot Noir.
There was, though, a special place in my affections for the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, which Siobán described (in a good way) as tropical and sweaty and had that distinctive grapefruit zing, one of the signatures of Marlborough sauvignon blanc. I had a soft spot, too, for the 2006 Te Koko. Also made from sauvignon blanc grapes, this was a mellower, less acidic and more honeyed affair. These grapes are not inoculated with a specific yeast, but, rather, allowed to ferment using the natural yeasts in the air, a process which takes longer and is more difficult to control. The result, compared to your typical New Zealand sauvignon blanc, is more bass than treble, but it was a true quencher of the thirsts in both mind and body, and very satisfying for that.