Brancott's Chosen Rows Sauvignon Blanc
Tasting the first release of this 'icon' wine, along with some great Sauvignons from around the world

Brancott winemaker Patrick Materman

This wine is the story of a journey, taken by Brancott (formerly Montana) in pursuit of the next level of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. An icon Sauvignon.

After a number of years of experimenting, it is finally launched, and it is called Chosen Rows.

‘It’s an appropriate time to release this wine,’ says Brancott chief winemaker Patrick Materman, ‘because it’s hitting its straps now.’

The New Zealand wine industry is very young, points out Materman. The first Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was planted in 1973, and the Montana Classic Sauvignon Blanc was first released in 1979. The style has evolved over the years, but it has remained an expressive, fruit-driven wine.

Materman has been personally involved at Montana/Brancott since 1990. He saw the release of the first high-end Montana Sauvignon, the ‘B’ (for Brancott) in 1991, from the more clay-based soils on the southern side of the valley. Generally speaking, the more stony soils give leaner, highly aromatic Sauvignons while the clay-based soils of the southern valleys give more texture and ageability.

Since 1991, the style of the ‘B’ has been tweaked quite a bit. It crept up to 40% barrel fermentation, and then by the late 1990s they moved away from oak, coming down to 4% and then by the mid 2000s down to none at all.

In the late 2000s they felt the need to revisit this, adding more palate weight. ‘We started raising questions of taking Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc to another level,’ says Materman. ‘Why haven’t we commanded higher prices in the marketplace?’

In their bid to experiment, they threw out the rule book. In the vineyard they started to take a Pinot Noir philosophy with Sauvignon, taking crop back to one bunch per shoot and doing everything by hand.

The icon Sauvignon project began with the 2008 vintage, and involved 14 different sites across the region. With shoot thinning and low crops, it was definitely a learning process, and just two cases of the final wine were bottled.

In 2009, 280 tons of fruit, harvested for the program, produced just 12 cases of wine. ‘It was a great learning exercise!’ reports Materman. Experimentation included indigenous fermentation, use of oak, use of larger format oak and extended lees contact post-fermentation. ‘We were being a little more controlling, concentrating on texture, mouthfeel and ageability,’ says Materman. ‘With everything hand harvested you end up with lower phenolics and change the style. With machine harvest and harder pressing you get more tropical fruit thiols, but these aren’t the most ageworthy.’       

Pressing was important. They used a Cocquard Champagne press that takes 8 tons of fruit, but which is incredibly gentle, taking four hours with a press cut at 500 litres. The resulting wine was at pH 2.9–3 with low phenolics, and sulfur dioxide wasn’t added straight away to give these phenolics a chance to oxidise. The juice was settled overnight (not totally bright) and then racked to large format oak and stainless steel for fermentation.

This 2009 trial showed that of the 14 different vineyard sites, Brancott was the best, with its heavier clay soils imparting palate weight. The actual 2009 wine was a bit too lean and tight to be released. ‘I was happy with the ageworthy style, but it needed too much explaining,’ says Materman.

So this means that 2010 is the first release of Chosen Rows. 3500 bottles will be released and its price in the UK is around £35. 2011 will not be released: instead, this vintage has been released as a cellar door/NZ on-premise only, called Fumé Blanc. ‘I didn’t feel it had the right character,’ Materman explains. ‘As a Fumé Blanc it tells a nice story.’ 2012, which we had a preview of, is just sensational.

We tried these wines along with a range of other ambitious high-end Sauvignons from around the world, which was a nice touch. Back in May 2009 Brancott (then Montana) held a major blind tasting of leading Sauvignons around the world to prompt discussion about the icon project they were undertaking (a report is here).


Viña Morande Edicion Limitada Sauvignon Blanc 2010 Casablanca, Chile
Very richly aromatic nose: melons, pear, peach. Lovely pure, rich open fruit. Bold, rich and tropical; lively and full. Subtle greenness in the background. 90/100

Cape Point Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2010 South Africa
Lovely focused grapefruit, herb and melon nose with subtle oak influence. Fine and expressive. The palate is delicate with lovely poise and weight. Nice ripe fruit combining with freshness and precision. 93/100

Dog Point Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2010 Marlborough, New Zealand
Fine, nervous, taut nose of spice, grapefruit and a hint of mineral/matchstick reduction. The palate is taut, textured and reductive with flint, minerals and spice. Stylish with lovely precision: an amazing Sauvignon. 94/100

Cloudy Bay Te Koko 2010 Marlborough, New Zealand
Rich with mango, peach, nuts, spice and grapefruit characters on the nose. Lively and intense on the palate with real richness. Supple, open and broad with peach and melon notes. Rich style. 92/100

Brancott Estate Chosen Rows Sauvignon Blanc 2010 Marlborough, New Zealand
Fine, nervous green herbal notes on the nose with some spiciness. The palate is fine and focused with broad green herby notes as well as textured citrus, white peach and pear characters. Still noticeably Marlborough Sauvignon, but very fine and linear with real finesse. 93/100

Henri Bourgeois Sancerre d’Anton 2010 Loire, France
Pure, linear and quite mineral with smooth texture. Rounded and fine with some melony richness, but also some fresh citrus and pear notes. Lovely smooth texture here: such a pure wine showing linearity and finesse. 93/100

Alphonse Mellot Sancerre Generation XIX 2010 Loire, France
Rich, almost tropical nose with sweet white peach and pear fruit and some oxidative notes. The palate is open, appley and melony with a hint of nuttiness. Textured and round with some baked apple character. Distinctive in a slightly oxidative style. 91/100

Domaine Didier Dagueneau Silex Pouilly Fumé 2010 Loire, France
Textured, full, broad Sauvignon with white peach and melon fruit. Broad and full, fine and seamless with lovely concentration and depth of flavour. 93/100

Château Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc 2010 Graves, Bordeaux, France
With 5% Sauvignon Gris and 5% Semillon in the blend, this is super stuff. Lovely precise, aromatic nose with open melon and grapefruit characters. Great finesse and purity. The palate is fine and expressive with some nutty notes as well as lively grapefruit and herbs. Really precise, complex and elegant. 95/100

Brancott experimental ‘icon’ Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Just 12 cases bottled. Taut with some citrus fruit, as well as a bit of fruit sweetness. Linear and precise with citrus, apple and herb notes, backed up by great acidity. Stylish and focused with lovely palate weight. 92/100

Brancott Fumé Blanc 2011 Marlborough, New Zealand
Notes of grapefruit, spice, apples and citrus with a hint of white peach. Attractive oak influence on the broad palate, which still retains good definition. Fresh and lively. 92/100

Brancott Estate Chosen Rows Sauvignon Blanc 2012 Marlborough, New Zealand
70–80% of this wine was made in foudres. Amazingly intense, exotic nose of grapefruit and citrus with a bit of spice and some subtle green pepper notes. Speaks of its place. The palate is beautifully judged with hints of melon and citrus, as well as lively grapefruit notes. Stylish with precise fruit and lovely complexity. 94/100

See also:

Montana's search for an icon Sauvignon, a blind tasting of top Sauvignons from around the world 

Wines tasted 02/13  
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