Way back when I used to work for Katnook Estate, which at that time was releasing some of the raciest, grassiest, most pungent and concentrated sauvignon blanc ever made in Australia. It wasn’t cheap and it turned heads. It was a revolutionary taste, and one which the Kiwis then turned into an industry.
Sauvignon blanc is a wine accountant’s liquid dream. You harvest it, press it, turn it into wine and sell it; all within a year. You can make a lot of it and do it industrially. And industrial sauvignon blanc – made at wineries with all the rustic charm of a Kuwaiti oil well as my mate Kevin Childs once said – can win dozens of trophies at shows and make multi-millionaires out of their owners. There’s nothing at all wrong with this picture.
Except there is. While there’s a world of difference between the finest sauvignon blancs and their voluminous counterparts, most sauvignon blanc remains entry-level. It’s heady and sweet, gluggy and mouthfilling, and opens the door to wine drinking to millions, most of whom will ultimately move on – in the direction of quality chardonnay, riesling or the like. My friends who called me snobbish for refusing their FMCG sauvignon blanc a decade and more ago would no more drink one today than refuse a glass of Corton. Like many, they too have moved on.
But here’s the nub: not all sauvignon blanc is worth moving away from. In fact, the opposite is indeed true and there is a relatively small number that deliver many or all the things you actually want in quality wine. One such wine comes from a tiny place in Gippsland on the road from Melbourne to Warragul. It’s called Cannibal Creek and has been making world-class sauvignon blanc for about 15 years from its north-facing site of silt and granitic clays.
Cannibal Creek’s 2017 Sauvignon Blanc reveals musky scents of white flowers, gooseberries and lychees laced with nuances of basil, oregano and lavender. It’s vivacious and mouthfilling, with pristine, translucently clear varietal flavours delivered with creaminess and generosity. Finely honed, it overlies a faintly powdery spine, extending long and nutty before tapering towards a racy finish of lively acidity.
It’s a rare, special, small maker’s sauvignon blanc for grown-ups and it’s perfectly safe to drink it in public.