We have been big fans of New Zealand’s Matua Valley winery, so it was a pleasure to finally meet up with its founder, Bill Spence.

Matua was the first to commercially plant and produce sauvignon blanc in New Zealand, and the growth of this wine has been phenomenal in recent decades. Has the grape lost its momentum, we wondered?

“There is still growth in this market because sauvignon blanc is so refreshing,” he said.

The grape’s natural acidity gives the wine a freshness that is so appealing on warmer days.

Consumers have liked and disliked New Zealand sauvignon blancs for the same reason: the grassy flavor often called “cat pee.” It can be aggressive, mouth-puckering in the extreme, but Matua Valley’s two versions are not. Spence attributes that achievement to blending sauvignon blanc grapes grown in three levels of Marlborough.

He and his brother sold the winery to Foster’s Wine Estate in 2001 and the brand continues to enjoy great popularity in restaurants and wine stores in the U.S. Most of its Central Otago pinot noir is sold in this country and represents a great value in this category.

Matua Valley Wines Marborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($14). There is no mistaking the herbaceous character of the wine, but it’s hardly a flaw in this case. This wine is a beautiful value with easy grapefruit and citrus notes and refreshing acidity.

Matua Valley Wines Parentai Marborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($22). We absolutely loved this single-vineyard sauvignon blanc for its racy aromatics and intensity. Grapefruit and citrus dominate the fruit flavors with a nice touch of mineral. This could easily become our summer go-to wine.

Matua Valley Wines Marborough Pinot Noir 2008 ($14). This easy quaffer is a good value in the pinot noir category. Simple, light-body flavors of strawberries and spicy oak.

Matua Valley Wines Central Otago Pinot Noir 2008 ($24). Intense, blackberry and raspberry flavors with a good dose of chocolate and cedar. A very nice food wine for a reasonable price.

TOASTING PINOT NOIRS

It must be boring to make only sparkling wine. If your customers don’t like a bit of effervescence in their wines, what do you have to offer them?

Not surprisingly, the prices of champagne have plummeted in recent months and producers are worried that the depressed market could take away the luxurious image this French region has held for years. California sparkling wine producers — many of whom charge lofty prices similar to champagne — are in no better position. If customers drink sparkling wine once or twice a month, how can you hope to prosper?

Making California sparkling wine exclusively is a dicey game. So, many producers have been making still wine from their prized chardonnay and pinot noir grapes. Good sparkling wine can’t be made without a good stock of the two primary grapes used for sparkling wine — it stands to reason the producer’s still wine will be good.

We’ve taken a look at some of the pinot noirs being made by sparkling wine producers in California and came up with some delightful gems. Here are some to try:

J Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2007 ($35). Elegant, simple strawberry and cherry fruit flavors with a dash of cinnamon and cloves. Good depth.

Gloria Ferrer Gravel Knob Vineyard Pinot Noir 2005 ($35). This intense pinot noir reflects the rocky soil of the Gravel Knob Vineyard in Carneros. Bright cherry flavors with a touch of cloves.

Gloria Ferrer Jose S. Ferrer Selection Pinot Noir 2005 ($35). Only best grapes from the producer’s 335 acres of vineyard are selected for this special bottling. Bountiful cherry and plum notes with a dash of leather and spicy oak.

 

Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr have visited vineyards all over the world and have been writing a newspaper wine column for more than 20 years. Contact them at:

[email protected]

 

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