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Terroir-Driven Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 27, 2015
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Yealands Estate, Awatere Valley-Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc Single Vineyard 2014 (Palm Bay International, $25):  When New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc emerged in the U.S. twenty years ago, I was thoroughly excited about it.  I still enjoy the wines on some occasions, but over the years my interest has turned to other types of wine that seem to me to have more to say about the intricacies of their terroirs.  Now, however, Yealands Estate has rekindled my interest in New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc through its collection of Sauvignons that are intriguingly differentiated.

Yealands Family Wines is a fairly new wine company, launched in 2008.  It was founded by Peter Yealands, a colorful and unorthodox entrepreneur who personally developed his vineyards in the Awatere Valley sub-region of Marlborough.  Today, the property covers 2471 acres of vines on rolling hills that are some of Marlborough’s windiest and driest sites.  The property has grown to become the largest privately-owned vineyard in New Zealand. 

Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and a few other varieties occupy a sculpted landscape of hills swept by coastal winds as well as protected hollows -- but the main variety is Sauvignon Blanc.  The Yealands Estate label encompasses three estate-bottled Sauvignons.  Another Sauvignon sells under the Peter Yealands label; it combines 25 percent of Wairau Valley fruit (a dry, cool area north of Awatere) with the Awatere Valley fruit.  To find such a diversity of Sauvignon Blanc wines from a single producer is very unusual in New Zealand.

The 2014 Peter Yealands Sauvignon Blanc ($16) is a very flavorful dry white with passionfruit, citrus and fresh herb flavors, as well as elevated acidity that brings a fresh, mouth-watering character to contrast with the wine’s oily-like texture.  Of the range of wines, it is the most classic for Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

Under the Yealands Estate label, the Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($25) and the Single Bock S1 Sauvignon Blanc ($30) come from different parts of the Seaview Vineyard, a mineral-rich site.  Their winemaking techniques -- stainless steel fermentation with various selected yeasts, two months of lees aging, no oak exposure -- are similar, but the wines are distinctly different, apparently due to the grapes themselves.  Climbing the price hierarchy starting with the Peter Yealands, I find more complexity, subtlety and refinement with every next wine.

The 2013 Single Vineyard is rich, with terrific concentration of flavor tightly wound around a taut core.  Aromas and flavors include citrus fruit (especially grapefruit), currants and herbs, but a savory note of minerality also emerges.  The texture here is silky, and the finish is impressively long.

The 2013 S1 Single Block is broader on the palate and rounder.  Despite its equally high acidity, the wine comes across as softer, with creamy rather than silky texture.  Here the fruit character is harmoniously integrated into the wine’s structure.  Aromas suggest perfume, a slight floral note and a nutty note of lees; flavors include peach, ripe citrus and a pronounced flinty minerality, continuing a theme that emerged in the 2013 Single Vineyard.  I was even more impressed with a pre-release sample of the 2014 S1 Single Block, which has more intensity than the 2013 and yet both delicacy and precision in its expression of aromas and flavors, and great length to its finish.

A final Sauvignon Blanc under the Yealands Estate label is the Winemakers Reserve; this wine, which I have not yet tasted, has some barrique aging.

Altogether these wines offer a fresh new look at what has now become a classic type of wine, and proves that Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc can still be compelling.

2014 Yealands Estate Single Vineyard  Sauvignon Blanc, 91 Points

2013/2014 Yealands Estate S1 Single Block  Sauvignon Blanc, 92 Points