Musings on what a Kiwi cost me

isabel estate cloudy bay babich west brook sauvignon blanc 2005 marlborough
Usually my reviews look at one particular bottle. Not this review though. It has four.

Since the Quebec market is quite deficient in Marlborough Sauvignons, I'm doing this in an effort to get myself up to speed. So to get a better handle on New Zealand's most famous bottled export, I went toe to toe with four bottles. All Marlborough 2005. All Sauvignon Blanc.

Could it be that they're all overpriced too? Or at least the high cost of drinking these trendy bottles was what struck me time and again. Except for the best-of-field Isabel Estate cuvée, which soundly delivered what I would call a $20 experience, the three others clearly fell short in terms of the price to value ratio.

That's not to say the Cloudy Bay isn't a remarkable wine. It is delicate, integrated, and wonderfully vinous in a way that recalls fine French winemaking. But at prices reaching up to and exceeding $30 CDN, I wonder what exactly is going on.

Blind to the pricetag, I actually preferred the Isabel bottle anyway. I favoured it if only for the fact that it is brilliantly complex: showcasing the celebrated Kiwi flavour profile of exotic fruits while maintaining strong mineral underpinnings. Isabel best approaches the Loire touchstone of Henri Bourgeois or Château de Sancerre with green reed, grass and herbal components. Delicious. I will likely seek out more. The 2005 should be able to gracefully face a little ageing.

West Brook makes an entry in the same price range as the above but is entirely missing complexity. It's all pineapple and citrus zing. The difference is like night and day yet the pricetag doesn't flinch. To me, this was even more confounding than the Cloudy Bay.

Babich produces the bottle that cost the least. You won't do too badly with it. It's a fairly good Marlborough example but doesn't stand up to much scrutiny. Very quaffable though; I quite enjoyed it as an aperatif.

Bottom line: Not including Isabel, I can think of many interesting Sauvignon blends from Bordeaux that more reward your palate for less money (actually, I'll be talking more about that in this space tomorrow). In my mind, Marlborough at its best can successfully substitute for Sancerre, but it's at such steep price that I'm not sure the charms of those exotic fruity flavours convince enough for me to stray from the Hexagon.

Isabel Estate Vineyard, West Brook, Babich, and Cloudy Bay. 12.5 - 14%.


Anonymous said...

Have you tried the Kim Crawford Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc? It's the cheapest I know of at the SAQ, listing at $17.60. (That's actually cheaper than in Ontario, where it's $19.95 at the LCBO.)

I won't claim that it's a superlative wine, but I certainly prefer it to the Babich and Cloudy Bay. (I haven't tried the others you tasted.)

g58 said...

It's always great to get a note from someone who's up on the LCBO-SAQ price gap. (It's always even better to get one saying the SAQ price is cheaper!)

To tell you the truth, I've now heard so many favourable reviews for Kim Crawford that this is the straw that break the camel's back. I will definitely try it soon. I've kind of been assuming that it cost as much as the others, but not so -- it's actually several dollars cheaper than its compatriots. Could be that this is the everyday NZ SB I've been looking for.

Thanks for writing,

Salil said...

I second the motion for Kim Crawford.

My personal favourite though is the Lawson's Dry Hills (also Marlborough) Sauv. It's hard to get a hold of - they're not that big exporters, but it's well worth taking the effort to trace their wines. They also make one of my favourite Rieslings.

On an aside, Marlborough's not the only great Sauvignon Blanc making site on the map. Palliser Estate's effort from Martinborough is well worth a look (particularly the 2005 vintage).

g58 said...

Thanks Salil for the
Palliser recommendation. So far our liquor control board up here in Canada is only carrying Pinots from Martinborough but I'll be keeping my eye out some SB when I'm in New York.