[Bottle book report is a monthly wine feature presented by our talented wine staff. This month, Dana Burton weighs in on New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc ‘Sea Pearl’, just in time for the Spring weather.]
(photo credit National Geographic)
The name, “Sea Pearl” is an homage to the gastropod, or sea snail, known as an Abalone which is indigenous to the cool, shallow waters off the coast of New Zealand. The iridescent shell is a beautiful mottling of greens, silvers, aquas, blues, and purples. The label depicts a stylized, enlarged version of Abalone, or Mother of Pearl.
New Zealand is comprised of two islands referred to as the North and the South Islands. The islands are bordered by the Tasman Sea to the west and the (South) Pacific Ocean to the east. The islands are separated by the Cook Straight. North Island is more populated (80%) with cities such as Aukland, and the capital, Wellington, located at its southern end. South Island, is home to coastal cities including Christ Church, and Timaru on the Pacific side, and Queensland, further south and more inland.
The Central Otago region, on the South Island, is quickly becoming known for its Pinot Noir, among other varietals. But, the terroir associated with NZ Sauvignon Blanc grapes, and those harvested for Sea Pearl, is located in the northeastern tip of New Zealand’s South Island, specifically, Marlborough.
Both islands have numerous dormant volcanos however, they are still seismically active. The Marlborough region straddles two tectonic plates which slowly, but constantly shift. The terrain and the terroir are a product of tectonic and glacial movement in addition to glacial melt from the mountains of the Southern Alps which divide the South Island’s east from west.The South Island contains numerous glacially formed inland lakes with indigenous Maori names.
The glaciers carved deep U shaped valleys known as fiords, and left gravel terraces. The glacial deposits, referred to as an alluvial fan, left more porous gravel and sand toward the west and more compacted clay, mudstone, greywacke, and bedrock toward the ocean. These various geological features provide site expressive wines, with some sites bearing fruit with more herbaceous, citrus, or tropical nuance.
Sea Pearl Sauvignon Blanc, as well as other Sea Pearl varietals, are grapes tended and grown on what are described on the website as “impeccable vineyards, harvested at optimum ripeness, with minimal intervention allowing for the fruit’s true expression.” The vineyards selected for inclusion in Sea Pearl Sauv Blanc are located in the southern Wairau River Valley of Marlborough which runs from the Spenser Mountains of the Southern Alps and north/northeast to Cloudy Bay and Cook Straight.
The climate is dry, cool, and sunny. The diurnal shift’s wide fluctuations in temperatures from day to night preserve the natural acidity of the fruit and result in the depth of the flavors. The region also benefits from the “rain shadow” of the Southern Alps- there is no cloud cover, with scant rainfall at harvest.
Sea Pearl’s Sauv Blanc grapes are not estate grown, nor are they from a specific appellation but “crafted” from various vineyards throughout Marlborough’s “sub-regions.” As a sub-region, the southern Wairau has more loam soil over gravel which provides better water retention with optimum drainage.The grapes are “transported to the winery immediately and pressed with minimal skin contact.” The juice is then cool fermented in stainless steel tanks. While I have always represented the bottle as “Sauv Blanc” I noticed that the back label states “White Wine” even though Sauvignon Blanc is clearly stated on front and back. It is “typical” of Sauv. Blancs from Marlborough but I recall reading that the original vines planted in Marlborough, where Sauvignon Blancs are now ubiquitous, were Müller-Thürgau and Chenin Blanc. Hmmm, … I better stay, not stray too far from, with what’s in the bottle versus what is printed on the bottle.
The color is a silver with some green hues in proper light which emulates some of the visual characteristics of Abalone. It is aromatic, citrus, clearly grapefruit.The flavor is fresh and quenching, citrus, with tropical fruit typical of the region, including passionfruit, perhaps guava. The body is medium. It is crisp, bright, with immense minerality. The pyrazines are there, as they should be, providing some herbaceous, grass notes. Warming more to the finish, the minerality, becomes mildly saline reminiscent of the ocean. The alcoholic content is 13%. I would believe it is best consumed fresh, certainly, within a year of the vintage. This wine would be a great summertime quencher and the foodie that I am thinks it is also crying like a mythical Siren on the sea’s edge for seafood – scallops, oysters, lobster, ceviche, seafood salad, ….
The label proudly illustrates the Silver Leaf fern with “Sustainable New Zealand Wine Growing.” I was not aware, until now, that the juice is shipped to Healdsburg, CA for bottling and distribution by Winesellers, Ltd. The carbon footprint of this product shrinks dramatically without the weight of bottles and packaging from NZ to the US and other markets. This factor, in addition to the use of the screw top enclosure instead of cork, or foam stoppers, particularly for a wine that will be consumed quickly, not cellared, provides further evidence of sustainable practices.
Winesellers,Ltd. was founded in 1978 by Yale Sager. Four decades later it is remains a family owned business located in Niles, Illinois. It is a “globally recognized importer and marketer of fine wines to the US Market.” They represent a vast portfolio including many other wines we proudly sell from our shelves. Those wines include, varietals from Tortoise Creek, Santa Julia, Mont Gravet, Gran Passione, Fritz Zimmer, Exem, Zuccardi, Tiamo, ….
We offer some exceptional Sauvignon Blancs from Marlborough, NZ, but I enjoyed tasting and learning about Sea Pearl, among other New Zealand Sauv Blancs, as a true value at the current price point.