In my experience there are few wines that have quite as many enthusiastic followers as Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. We wine writers can yawn away at how it's not as good as it was, how boring the style is, how it's not nearly such good value as some others, but it's a waste of time. Once someone has been infected with the Cloudy Bay virus, it seems to stay in their cells forever. So, for all you Cloudy Bay fans out there, how about something related but completely different?
James Healy has worked at Cloudy Bay forever and a day. In fact it was his little blue Morris Minor which had a drive-on part in our film about Cloudy Bay in the Sauvignon episode of the Jancis Robinson's Wine Course tv series. Ivan Sutherland has grown fruit for Cloudy Bay for about as long on 80 hectares (200 acres) near Highfield and Montana's Brancott estate. And now, with their wives, they have set up a completely new outfit Dog Point from fruit grown on part of the Sutherland vineyard. Their first vintage was 2002 and they have waited all this time to release their debut Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and what is surely New Zealand's most distinctive Sauvignon Blanc. So distant is it from the NZ Sauvignon paradigm that they even decided not to put the words Sauvignon Blanc on the label (much to the horror of some of their importers). This Sauvignon from Section 94 of the vineyard was barrel fermented and matured in old François Frères casks and certainly tastes like it in that it is very dense, deep-flavoured and savoury.
So far, you might be tempted to think, it sounds just like Te Koko, the oaked Sauvignon produced at Cloudy Bay for some years now. But you'd be wrong, because not only are the soils different, this wine has not undergone malolactic fermentation so it's much more tense and, thanks to the oak quality and age, dry. Healy and Sutherland can even specify exactly who wore in their 2002 casks (Chartron & Trebuchet and Vincent Girardin). Most New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has 4-6 g/l residual sugar whereas this Dog Point wine tastes bone dry. It also tastes much thicker, with far more extract than most New Zealand whites, indeed wines, because there was no clarification; the fruit was pressed straight into barrel.
This is a difficult wine to describe because it is certainly not like regular NZ Sauvignon, nor with its oak ageing is it like most Sancerres - and it has more pronounced acidity than any white Graves I can think of. In fact, with its defiantly reductive nose, the wine it most reminded me of was Le Soula Blanc, although of course the grapes are quite different.
Go buy it, at about £16.50 a bottle from the following UK retailers:
Bentalls of Kingston
House of Fraser, Birmingham
Uncorked, London EC2
Cellar Door, Overton
DeFine Wines, Sandiway, Cheshire
Bennetts of Chipping Campden, Gloucs
Philglas and Swiggot, Battersea
Flying Corkscrew, Water End, Herts
Noel Young Wines, Trumpington
Cooden Cellars, Eastbourne
Crane River Fine Wine
US importers are Fred Eck of Boston and Patrick Will of Ex Cellars in Solvang, California.
The Chardonnay 2002 and Pinot Noir 2002 are also well made and gently oaked but there are not nearly as distinctive as this Sauvignon (not). Messrs Healy and Sutherland swear they want to keep Dog Point small (they still consult at Cloudy Bay and Sutherland is a director) but I note that from the (massive in NZ) 2004 vintage they are starting to make what one might call a standard stinky version of Marlborough Sauvignon too.