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Montana Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Latest release of an iconic wine

The first release of Montana Sauvignon Blanc was in 1979, which puts it at the dawn of history in this, the largest and most well known of New Zealandís wine regions. Considering the impact that Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has had on the wine world, itís amazing to consider that this region didnít really take off until the mid-1980s.

New Zealand has a history of wine dating back to 1819, when the first grape vines were planted by a missionary named Samuel Marsden in the north of North Island (although thereís no record of him making wine Ė you have to wait another 16 years for this). But until the 1970s, the wine industry didnít develop much. Indeed, an early edition of Hugh Johnsonís famous World Atlas of Wine dating from 1970 doesnít even mention New Zealand.

Some growth occurred in the 1970s, but then there was a problem of over-production that resulted in a vine pull. The problem was that Kiwis generally preferred beer to wine.

It was in 1973 that Montana planted the first commercial vines of the modern era in Marlborough. Montana founder Frank Yukich decided that this largely undeveloped sheep farming region had real potential, and committed to buying a large chunk of land and then putting vines in. Most of them died, because of drought, but Yukich persevered, and replanted. The masterstroke was to include some Sauvignon Blanc, which first went into the ground here in 1976. Yukich wasnít the first to try growing Sauvignon in New Zealand - Ross and Bill Spence, of Matua Valley Wines, had tried in Auckland Ė but it was Montanaís version of this variety that can claim to have started things going. In 1979 the first Montana Sauvignon Blanc was made.

People began to take note. In 1984, some of the Montana Sauvignons were shown to the press in the UK. They created a bit of a storm, and sparked huge interest in the combination of variety and region. [It was this that led David Hohnen to begin his celebrated Cloudy Bay winery in 1985.] Ernie Hunter brought his Marlborough Sauvignon to the London wine fair in 1986, and this also met with amazement on the part of the trade. From the mid-1980s to the present the Marlborough region has seen spectacular growth, with 13 811 hectares planed as of 2008, and more to come.

What is special about Marlborough Sauvignon? In short, itís simply unique. Itís highly aromatic, with a combination of green grassy notes and ripe tropical fruit, together with fresh acidity. Everyone has tried to copy it, and as yet no one has really succeeded. Itís a dream for winegrowers, because you can crop high loads without losing quality, and winemaking is about as short and simple as it comes: press, settle, ferment, fine/filter then bottle.

Almost 30 years on, Montanaís Sauvignon Blanc is not considered to be one of the top wines from the region, but it remains iconic. Itís a benchmark example of the style, it has a historical pedigree, and it is made in large quantities and is available just about everywhere Ė so lots of people can experience it. It was one of my formative wine drinking experiences back in the early 1990s, and so I retain a sense of affection for the label. And itís really important for New Zealand that their big wine companies, such as Montana (now part of the Pernod Ricard stable) do good work.

Montana Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Marlborough, New Zealand
A really fresh, vibrant expression of Sauvignon Blanc with crisp acidity, some green pepper herbiness and just enough tropical fruit/passion fruit character to give it roundness. A deliciously bright style thatís really food friendly. 88/100 (£7.99, available just about everywhere but Asda)

Tasted 09/08  
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