Two highly recommended and surprising whites from New Zealand.
Riesling: from £11.95, NZ$18.90, SG$18.95, $14.99, CA$22, €20.95
Sauvignon Blanc: from £10.50, NZ$17.90, $11.99, SG$18.95, CA$19.95, €109 per case of six
The Venn diagram of people who love New World Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling with equal enthusiasm has only a small overlap. Supposedly, the former is populist while the latter is specialist – and a preference for one style usually signifies a dislike for the other.
But the overlap of New World producers who make both Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling is much bigger, especially in the Marlborough region of New Zealand. Here, Sauvignon Blanc is the money-spinner and Riesling is the labour of love.
I therefore wouldn’t expect both these wines of the week to appeal to the same palates, even though they are made to the same high standard by the same producer. But each one is a great example of its kind.
The Doctors’ 2018 Sauvignon Blanc is prototypical of the Marlborough style: high-definition gooseberry, nettle and citrus on the palate with huge concentration and persistence. The acid is sabre-toothed, but that fits with the style, and is softened on the finish by a few entirely reasonable grams of residual sugar (5.9 g/l according to the tech sheet). This is crowd-pleasing, flavoursome Savvy-B made in a style that appeals to millions, and which has earned a mean score of 15.7 in our tasting notes database.
Residual sugar is something that wine experts often find heinous in Sauvignon Blanc, yet entirely laudable in Riesling. The 44 g/l of RS in The Doctor’s 2017 Riesling are tailor-made to appeal to the sorts of people who love Kabinett and Spätlese Rieslings from the Mosel. It has a similar lime marmalade, floral and honey character but also a stony, oily note that evoked the Clare Valley style for me. I scored it 16.5, which it has also scored on three separate occasions in the past.
But there is one more reason to recommend these wines, which I have deliberately left until last: they are both naturally low in alcohol, at 9 and 9.5% respectively.
Achieving this in Riesling is well-established. In this case, the producer harvests the grapes at a potential alcohol of around 11.5%, then arrests the fermentation at 9% alcohol to leave the residual sugar. For Sauvignon Blanc, however, the method is less conventional: they reduce the leaf canopy to slow sugar accumulation without compromising flavour ripeness, a technique pioneered by the winemaker Dr John Forrest.
As a result, both these wines fulfil a remit for fully flavoured, well-balanced, lower-alcohol options, which seem likely to be increasingly important in years to come (as I recently considered in Zero-alcohol wine: horrific or terrific?).
But lower alcohol needn’t be the reason for choosing these wines because they stand alone for their excellent concentration and purity of flavour, and their admirable varietal and regional typicality. I tasted them several times at home, and never once felt that anything was missing. They prove that quality can be achieved without compromise at alcohol levels that are conventionally considered too weak – a particularly impressive feat for the dry Sauvignon Blanc – so they should appeal to all wine drinkers, whether populist or specialist. But, of course, they provide a great lower-alcohol option for anyone specifically seeking it.
I tasted the 2017 Riesling, which is available in the UK only from Frontier Fine Wines, who also have the 2015 in stock. Wine-Searcher lists several older vintages available in the UK, USA, Canada, Singapore, Ireland and of course New Zealand. It's the kind of style that should age very well (and earlier vintages have accrued decent scores on our site) so I'd have no hesitation in ordering them.
The 2018 Sauvignon Blanc won't reach the UK until next month, but the 2017 vintage is available quite widely, including via Waitrose, Frontier Fine Wines and Lea & Sandeman in the UK, among others, and internationally.