I freely admit that I am not among those who sing the praises of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc very often, and that's not about to change, at least not as a sweeping endorsement of the style. I think it's pretty much a black and white thing — either you like them or you don't, and in general I find that they scream out at me with their piercing, racy, forward fruit style, which makes many of them kind of overpowering and one-dimensional. I usually prefer Sauvignons from Chile, France's Loire Valley or Bordeaux.
Yet in wine, as in most things in life, there are always exceptions, and the exception in New Zealand Sauvignon I found recently was an $11 bottle from a producer I hadn't heard of — the 2003 Sauvignon Blanc known as "The Stones" from Cairnbrae Vineyards in Marlborough, the country's premier area for the variety.
Pale straw in color, it was simply delicious, a triumph of substance over style, with a balance and complexity that made it enjoyable to sip and to contemplate its various components, which, for me, is what drinking wine is all about.
It starts off with gooseberry and citrus aromas, mainly grapefruit, joined by lemon and lime in the mouth, as well as some pear and white peach. Minerals linger in the finish. A day later, a glass from the same bottle was a bit sweeter, with pineapple now in the mix, all of it nicely layered.
It will work well with all kinds of fish and shellfish, a range of Asian foods and as a delightfully refreshing aperitif. By now, I don't even blink at the sight of a screw cap, which Cairnbrae and many other New Zealand wineries are using. They eliminate the possibility of contamination from tainted corks and, in their still limited way, seem to be coexisting well with the cork.
Cairnbrae is a 45-acre winery established in 1980 and, after supplying other wineries, has been producing wine under its own label for a dozen years. It would be nice to see what it does with its other wines — Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Pinot Noir.