The hub of Sauvignon Blanc production is the cool Marlborough region of New Zealand's South Island, the country's most important wine-producing area, with extensive plantings of Sauvignon vines. Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand are generally sharply focused, unoaked wines, with bracing acidity, excellent fruit intensity and ""cut,"" and a pungent citrus, grassy, herbal, peppery character not unlike Sauvignon Blancs from France's Loire Valley. Whereas the French versions (Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume) tend to lead with their flinty mineral and soil tones, New Zealand's are more likely to privilege clean, fresh fruit. But the similarities between these two styles of Sauvignon are more important than the differences.
While the brisk, steely style of Sauvignon Blanc has been much in demand with restaurant-goers in America for the past several years, and while this is the style that put New Zealand Sauvignon on the world map, there is a somewhat worrying trend today toward bigger, riper and softer examples of Sauvignon. This trend is especially noticeable in Marlborough, where large producers with high crop levels may have little choice but to let their fruit hang in the hope of making wines with less pungent bell pepper and jalapeno notes, not to mention asparagus and other strong vegetal qualities. The result is wines with more tropical aromas and flavors--sometimes almost Chardonnay-like in character--plus, of course, some residual sugar. It remains to be seen if this approach succeeds in the marketplace. This issue is an important one for New Zealand because Sauvignon Blanc in recent years has accounted for 35% to 40% of total production and an even higher percentage of exports.