2017 Dog Point, Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand
Joe Czerwinski, Wine Advocate (winter 2018)
About this WINE
Dog Point Vineyard combines the considerable winegrowing experience of Ivan Sutherland and James Healy, the former chief viticulturalist and head winemaker at New Zealand's Cloudy Bay.
The name Dog Point dates from the earliest European settlement of Marlborough and the introduction of sheep to the district. These were days of few fences, of boundary riders and "boundary keeping dogs". Shepherds' dogs sometimes became lost or wandered off and eventually bred into a marauding pack which attacked local flocks. Their home was a tussock and scrub covered hill, overlooking the Wairau Plains, designated by the early settlers as Dog Point.
After leaving Cloudy Bay, Ivan Sutherland and James Healy began making wines from Sutherland's own vineyards, which were planted in the 70's and 80's. Additional fruit is sourced from selected vineyard plantings dating back to the late 1970's. The vineyards are partly older plantings on the clay silt of the valley floor where the Brancott valley joins the Wairau valley, and partly newer plantings on three ridges on the west side of the Brancott. The Sauvignon is mostly valley floor, Pinot and Chardonnay mostly on the ridges.
Grapes are all hand-picked, and, with the exception of the stainless steel made sauvignon, all wines are given extended barrel ageing with minimal racking and handling. It's a non-interventionist, natural, hands-off technique that characterizes all their wines.
New Zealand's answer to Napa Valley, Marlborough is a veritable engine room that in 2006 accounted for 47 percent (10,419 hectares) of the country's vines, and over 60 percent of its production, even though it is home to just 20 percent of the nation’s 530 wineries. Around 76 percent of the vineyards are planted with Sauvignon Blanc.
Located on the north-easterly tip of South Island at a latitude of 41.3 degrees South, the Marlborough flats are protected from the tropical north-westerlies by the Richmond Ranges, separating Marlborough from Nelson. It is similarly protected from the frost-bearing Antarctic south-easterlies racing up the eastern coastline by the Kaikoura Ranges. The region consequently experiences low rainfall, together with high sunshine hours and a significant diurnal shift between day and night temperatures, thus preserving the aromatics.
The Marlborough viticultural zone, now being delineated, actually consists of three sub-regions: the fertile, alluvial soils of the Wairau Valley on the northern side (site of the original Marlborough settlement in 1880, and subsequently to Montana in 1973) is constantly fed by a subterranean aquifer, resulting in an easy, tutti-frutti style of Sauvignon Blanc best exemplified by Hunters wine.
The Southern Valleys zone on the opposite side of the Valley comprise drier, stonier, poorer soils and clay knolls (such as those of the Brancott Valley), delivering a fuller, more structured, defined, gooseberry and limey Sauvignon Blanc with more bite and poise; Cloudy Bay (who put the region on the world map in 1985), Dog Point, Isabel Estate and the Winegrowers of Ara all inhabit this stretch of the Valley.
Lastly there’s the Awatere Valley, which is located across the Kaikouras on ancient black volcanic soils amid a cooler climate, with harvests often running two weeks behind those in the Wairau Valley; the Awatere style of Sauvignon Blanc is peachier and richer than elsewhere, with Vavasour a fine example.
Although most wines are vinified in stainless steel and released within 12 months of the harvest, some enterprising growers are trialling the use of oak barrels, especially when vinifying superior parcels of hand-harvested fruit. Dog Point Section 94 is one such wine.
The region is also home to the country's small sparkling-wine industry, employing the traditional method to vinify Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Some producers have sought to diversify into still Pinot Noir production, whilst using an inappropriate Swiss clone. A glance at what's been happening in Central.Otago and in Martinborough, however, has persuaded those serious producers to plant a greater selection of clones, notably 667, 777, Abel and 115, as well as the common Pommard (UCD 5) and 10/5. The result has been a shift from the classic Marlborough Pinot Noir spicy red fruit with its almost Côte de Beaune character towards a fuller, fleshier, smokier, black cherry Côte de Nuits style.
An important white grape in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley that has now found fame in New Zealand and now Chile. It thrives on the gravelly soils of Bordeaux and is blended with Sémillon to produce fresh, dry, crisp Bordeaux Blancs, as well as more prestigious Cru Classé White Graves.
It is also blended with Sémillon, though in lower proportions, to produce the great sweet wines of Sauternes. It performs well in the Loire Valley and particularly on the well-drained chalky soils found in Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, where it produces bone dry, highly aromatic, racy wines, with grassy and sometimes smoky, gunflint-like nuances.
In New Zealand, Cloudy Bay in the 1980s began producing stunning Sauvignon Blanc wines with extraordinarily intense nettly, gooseberry, and asparagus fruit, that set Marlborough firmly on the world wine map. Today many producers are rivalling Cloudy Bay in terms of quality and Sauvignon Blanc is now New Zealand`s trademark grape.
It is now grown very successfully in Chile producing wines that are almost halfway between the Loire and New Zealand in terms of fruit character. After several false starts, many South African producers are now producing very good quality, rounded fruit-driven Sauvignon Blancs.
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Dog Point combines the considerable winegrowing experience of Ivan Sutherland and James Healy, the former chief viticulturist and head winemaker at New Zealand’s iconic Cloudy Bay. Grapes are all hand-picked. A non-interventionist, natural, handsoff technique characterises all their wines and all viticulture is now organic.
This is intensely aromatic on the nose with notes of gooseberry and fresh grass complemented by an intriguing struck-match note. The palate is riper with peach, apricot and fig dominating, wellbalanced by white grapefruit and refreshing acidity. A mineral backbone persists even on the long finish. Drink now to 2020.
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