Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Summer wine...

...and the drinking is easy (as long as you don't mind the occasional whiff of cat pee)

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Newly cut grass, ripe citrus fruit, fresh green veggies -- ah, the smells and tastes of summer.

It just so happens that they're also the most common flavours in Sauvignon Blanc--particularly those made in New Zealand. As such, it's the light, crisp white is the perfect choice to beat the heat.

As a cool-climate wine-growing nation -- after all, they're as close to the South Pole as we are to the North Pole -- New Zealand makes some stellar Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling. Heck, there are a few producers in a couple of spots doing a great job with bigger reds like Merlot and Syrah, too.

But Sauvignon Blanc is unquestionably New Zealand's proverbial bread and butter when it comes to wine. A report from New Zealand Winegrowers -- the national organization for the wine sector -- forecasted there would be over 17,000 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc planted in 2012, just over half of the country's total grape-growing production. Pinot Noir is next highest at just over 4,800 hectares.

Of New Zealand's wine-producing regions, Marlborough is the biggest, volume-wise, and has been at the heart of the country's Sauvignon Blanc boom. Around 150 of the country's 700-plus wineries are located in the region, and half of all grape growers -- people who own the land, grow the grapes and sell to wineries -- are Marlborough-based.

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has a distinctive style that's easy to love when the weather warms up. Almost never aged in oak, it's a crisp, clean and steely white wine with bright lemon, lime and/or grapefruit flavours, as well as gooseberry and green apple notes in the fruit department.

Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc sometimes picks up more herbal, reedy flavours like fresh-cut grass and/or tomato plant. While not entirely unpleasant in small doses, these sometimes morph into sweatier, savoury notes reminiscent of bell and/or jalape±o peppers.

And then there's the cat pee component. There are some out there who simply won't drink Sauvignon Blanc -- especially those made in New Zealand -- because they pick up a decided cat pee aroma on the wines. As the longtime owner of two cats, I certainly see it to an extent -- poorly made or underripe Sauvignon Blanc produces a particularly sour, ammonia-type smell that's extremely unpleasant. In my experience, however, this is the exception rather than the norm.

If you happen to find your New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to be a touch weedy or acrid, just go ahead and chill the living daylights out of it. In fact, Sauvignon Blanc should be served well chilled -- certainly colder than a heavier white, such as Chardonnay or Viognier, but not quite as intensely as bubbly or a Pinot Grigio. The more a wine is chilled, the more its aromas and flavours are muted -- leave a Sauvignon Blanc out on the counter for a few hours and notice how it starts tasting sour and unpleasant.

Food-wise, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is a great wine for a wide range of summer fare. The light, crisp white works, unsurprisingly, with crisp, citrusy salads and light cheeses. It's a great wine with seafood, from grilled shrimp to white fish to crab cakes, and works just as well with lighter poultry dishes, such as a chicken salad sandwich or grilled chicken breast.

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WITHER HILLS 2010 SAUVIGNON BLANC (Marlborough, New Zealand -- $17.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)

There was a slight fizz to this bottle when I opened it -- not that I'm complaining, as it sort of works. The bell/jalape±o pepper aromas are certainly here, but still secondary to lime rind, grapefruit and white pepper notes. That citrus core is made livelier by the slight fizz, but the bell pepper flavours are still fairly prominent. Medium acidity keeps things lively -- maybe a bit off-balance but still fresh. 86/100

VILLA MARIA 2011 PRIVATE BIN SAUVIGNON BLANC (Marlborough, New Zealand -- around $19, private wine stores)

Mineral, green apple, lemon-lime, perfume and green berry aromas certainly don't get reedy or herbal on the nose. Light-bodied but fairly intense, the Villa Maria is tart, with a sweet-and-sour lemon, grapefruit, green apple and light mineral note on the palate. Decidedly crisp and fresh, it's certainly recommended with vinaigrette-based salads. 88/100

CLOUDY BAY 2011 SAUVIGNON BLANC (Marlborough, New Zealand -- $29.72, Liquor Marts and beyond)

While herbal notes are notable on the nose, they're balanced almost perfectly with lemon-lime, green apple, mineral and ripe pear aromas. Medium-bodied and with incredible intensity, the Cloudy Bay ramps up the citrus rind component, doing well to incorporating green apple notes, medium acidity and fantastic balance with stellar length. Arguably the most famous Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, it's also one of the most stylish. 91/100

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 21, 2012 E4

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