The earliest record of grape domestication dates back to approximately 6000 B.C. in what is the present-day Republic of Georgia. A couple thousand years later, wine is cultivated in over 70 countries across the globe and is the 6th most consumed beverage after tea, coffee, beer, soft drinks and vodka. At the furthest point from the origin of the common grape vine known as Vitis vinifera, lies one of the most vibrant wine growing regions in the nation of New Zealand. While being relatively new to the wine scene, New Zealand made a strong appearance 40 years ago by introducing the world to an exciting new style of sauvignon blanc by a label you may recognize called Cloudy Bay. In the opinion of wine maven Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible, “The (New Zealand) wines are, quite simply, outrageousness in a bottle. And they’ve flung the door wide open to other exciting New Zealand varietals, especially pinot noir.”
I had the opportunity recently to meet with Peter Jackson, winemaker of Crowded House/Catalina Sounds Winery, for a crash course in New Zealand wines over lunch at Nobuo at Teeter House in downtown Phoenix. Peter is a charming Aussie who, as a pre-Law student, was inspired to change careers after biking through France. He gained experience working in wineries in Italy, France and the Willamette Valley (Oregon), before calling New Zealand home. So what should you know about New Zealand wines and Crowded House/Catalina Sounds Winery in particular?
Sauvignon blanc is New Zealand’s most widely planted varietal, accounting for 70% of the country’s total production. The vineyards on the North and South Islands are some of the southernmost located in the world. The cool, steady climate of the coastal areas allows grapes to ripen evenly, developing balanced wines that are dry and crisp. New Zealand wines also have a hint of tropical fruit on the palette, such as mango, guava and papaya.
Crowded House/Catalina Sounds is located in the wine region of Marlborough on the northeastern tip of the South Island. Marlborough produces approximately 75% of all New Zealand wines, and of this percentage, sauvignon blanc is the principal varietal. According to Peter, Crowded House and Catalina Sounds produce wines that capture the essence of Marlborough, with powerful fruit and a crunchy, mineral finish.
Peter feels the 2016 Crowded House Sauvignon Blanc is the quintessential New Zealand sauvignon blanc. It is not just about the fruit: there is some bell pepper and salinity, but the citrus drives the palette. He calls it “sessionable” wine, an expression I love. It may not be in The Oxford English Dictionary, but essentially it means you can enjoy it all day with food and friends.
We also tasted the Catalina Sounds 2017 Sauvignon Blanc which is the best selling premium sauvignon blanc in Australia and Peter Jackson’s signature wine. His winemaking philosophy is relatively simple: leave the wine alone as much as possible. He feels it is important to let the expression of the site and vintage be as pure as possible. There is some intervention, of course. Once harvested, he steers the fruit in the right direction while respecting the subtle differences of each site.
Lastly, Peter introduced me to the 2016 Catalina Sounds Pinot Noir, an elegant yet approachable medium-bodied pinot noir with notes of red berry and spice. The pinot is aged in a combination of new (10-15%), 1, 2 and 3 year-old French Oak barrels so as not to impart a flavor that overpowers the wines.
One more thing I found interesting is the preference for screw caps over corks. Roughly 85% of New Zealand wines use screw caps, as screw caps make wine resistant to certain fungi and flaws. This is a nod not only to practicality, but also a reflection of the down-to-earth character and approach to wine making and drinking in a country I very much long to visit (even more so now!).
For those of you who were wondering, you can find these wines on Wine.com with the following links. They are priced at a very attractive price point, around $12.99 to $16.99 a bottle. Plus check out the video of Peter Jackson giving you a brief lecture on New Zealand wines. Pop open a bottle of whatever you have on hand, and enjoy! xoM
All photos by Marci Symington for texAZtaste.com.