New Zealand wines first began to attract attention in Britain during the 1970s and '80s, and then burst into American consciousness in the 1990s with the emergence of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. For a couple of mad years there, it was the sort of cult wine that sommeliers hid under the counter, producing the odd bottle for favored customers.
Sanity soon returned. While Cloudy Bay is a lovely wine, it certainly didn't warrant that sort of pop-star hysteria. Nevertheless, its few moments of superstar status did serve to awaken American awareness of New Zealand wines in general and of Kiwi sauvignon blancs in particular.
A flood of imitators soon followed, but there was a problem: NZ sauvignon blancs often show strong hints of an acidic gooseberry flavor that quickly became the trademark of the whole genre. Worse, in too many cheaply made offerings, it has become the only discernible flavor in otherwise thin, watery wines.
That's why Nick's current Wine of the Week, Shepherd's Ridge Sauvignon Blanc ($14) is such a standout. It's a finely made NZ sauvignon blanc that equals those at twice the price. It shows delicate, zesty fruit flavors balanced by just a hint of those hallmark herbaceous elements without being overwhelmed by them. Cool fermentation and sur lie aging result in a full, rich mouth-feel without any oak contact, and wine that's a pure delight at a very moderate price.
When to Drink: Now
Breathing/Decanting: Not necessary.
Food Pairing: Ideal for light lunches, salads, cold meats, chicken and shell fish.
Grapes: 100% sauvignon blanc.
Country: New Zealand
Web Site: www.shepherdsridge.co.nz
Nick Passmore is an independent wine writer and consultant based in New York. For five years he contributed a widely read monthly wine column to Forbes.com, in addition to which his work has appeared in such publications as Forbes, Discover, Town & Country, the Robb Report, the Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, Sky, and Golf Connoisseur. He is currently Artisanal Editor for Four Seasons magazine and contributes the Nick Passmore: Wine of the Week column to BusinessWeek.com. He is also a judge at the widely respected annual Critics' Challenge wine competition.