NZ vs SA Sauvignon Blanc: Report


The Encounter was devised by Erica Crawford, passionate Marlborough producer Loveblock Wines) New Zealand and Emile Joubert, wine writer and marketing consultant from Cape Town. Sportingly announced to celebrate the centenary of rugby relations between New Zealand and South Africa in 2021, the event is a celebration of the bilateral respect the two nations have for each other’s sporting, wine and other cultures.

Crawford worked with Cameron Douglas MW to select a line-up of 10 Sauvignon Blanc wines from her homeland, and all the wines were from the world-famous Marlborough region on the South Island. Joubert collaborated with Sauvignon Blanc SA, the marketing arm for Cape Sauvignon Blanc, who assisted him in picking a 10-wine line-up.

The Line-up

Team New Zealand

Te Whare Ra  Sauvignon Blanc 2020

Loveblock   Sauvignon Blanc 2020. SV, organic

Greywacke Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2020

Astrolabe Awatere Sauvignon Blanc 2020

Villa Maria Reserve Wairau Valley Reserve 2020

Dog Point  Sauvignon Blanc 2020 organic

Zephyr MK111 Sauvignon Blanc2020

Giesen “The August” 2019

Jules Taylor OTQ 2018

Yealands State of Flux 2019

South African Team

Alvi’s Drift Reserve 2020

Diemersdal Winter Ferment 2020

Stellenbosch Vineyards Southern View 2020

D’Aria Winery The Songbird 2020

KWV Classic Collection Cathedral Cellar  2020

Le Grand Domaine Wines The Pledge Our Darling 2020

Spier Wine Farm 21 Gables 2020

Stark-Condé Wines Round Mountain 2020

Steenberg The Black Swan 2020

Thelema Mountain Vineyards 2020

Dr Winifred Bowman, convener of judges.


Judging – blind, unsighted – took place on Diemersdal Estate in the Durbanville region of Cape Town on 22 September. The 100pt scoring system was used by the following judges:

Dr Winifred Bowman, Cape Wine Master

Steffi Layer (German), exports manager for Diemersdal

Erica Taylor (USA), wine and sommelier consultant

Rudger van Wyk, winemaker at Stark-Condé

Joaquim Sá (Portugal) Amorim CEO in South Africa

The brief to judges was to select the most delicious examples of Sauvignon Blanc instead of splitting hairs on minor technical aspects. It is, after-all, a celebration of Southern Hemisphere Sauvignon Blanc.


New World Sauvignon Blanc is no one-trick pony. The once popular perception that New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is a one-dimensional caricature, which has led to it being muchly maligned in circles of wine criticism, holds no sway. South African Sauvignon Blanc, which has to work much harder to get critical acclaim and recognition than other white Cape varieties – despite it being the country’s top-selling white cultivar – has also left preconceived ideas and labels of predictability way behind.

The overall impression of the 20-wine line-up was one of diversity, excitement, imaginative winemaking and creative expression, while at the same time offering wines that were accurate, focused and definite examples of wines made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape.

A few of the judges admitted to foreseeing that the New Zealand wines would “jump out of the glass” in the line-up and thus be relatively easy to spot. This they admitted after the tasting, noting their surprise at how the wines from both countries offered spectacular variation, which was according to Dr Bowman the result of “excellent winemaking aimed at utilising the offerings of geographical typicity to create wines of exuberant elegance and true class”.

This was the objective Crawford had in her selecting of the New Zealand line-up. Along with the characteristic “fruit-bombs”, they chose labels showcasing the Kiwis’ move towards offering wines of texture, presence and complexity, while at the same time still being “100% New Zealand Sauvy”.

Erica Crawford, aka Mrs Loveblock.

Thus, some of the New Zealand wines’ cellar processes included use of amphorae and concrete eggs (including State of Flux and Loveblock) as well as foudrés and big barrels of older wood (Giesen, Loveblock, Greywacke and Jules Taylor). Natural, spontaneous fermentation was also used by producers wishing to push the envelope and definitely contributed to the depth of flavour and lingering texture noted in a substantial portion of the Kiwi line-up.

Although, when it came to handing out the big scores in the line-up of both countries’ wines, classic Marlborough expression ruled the roost. Villa Maria Reserve Wairau Valley topped the judges’ ratings with an average of 93.4pts, with Astrolabe’s Awatere Valley expression of concentrated Sauvignon Blanc bounty coming second with a 93pt average.

These wines are both inoculated and had their profiles formed during lees-time in stainless steel to capture the essence of vigorous Marlborough terroir. Huge thiols and riveting melodies of tropical, citrus and stone-fruit gripped the judges’ senses, with the Villa Maria also showing a black-currant expression, especially typical of Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc.

Both wines, however, portrayed true class and stylistic grace along with their commanding presence. They had the judges using words such as “formidable”, “absolutely delicious”, “a wine-drinker’s delight” and “Sauvignon Blanc at its best.”

While all the New Zealand wines originate from the 28 000ha of vines planted in Marlborough on the South Island, the line-up of Sauvignon Blancs from the Cape comprised a more visceral regional diversity. Terroirs of origin varied from warmish Worcester to the cool Darling region on the Cape West Coast, the wine capital of Stellenbosch and Durbanville on the edge of South Africa’s Mother City.

That preconceived ideas of what makes a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc opposed to one from South Africa don’t hold water, was neatly displayed with the judges’ findings. The Pledge Our Darling Sauvignon Blanc from Le Grand Domaine Wines, made from Darling fruit, drew comments of “New Zealand-esque characters” with its immense concentration of granadilla and goose berry drifting on a cloud of canned-pea and sliver of asparagus.

Likewise, the Stark-Condé Wines Round Mountain Sauvignon Blanc from Stellenbosch was termed “southern, cold and intense, the kind of complexity and punch you’d expect from Down Under”. Interesting was that Stark-Condé racked-up the highest-score out of the South African wines with 92.8pts – tying with the revered Kiwi wine Giesen The August 2019. In a taste-off with Winnie Bowman, convenor, and organiser Emile Joubert, the Stark-Condé nudged into the front by the barest of margins to take the official third-place.

As mentioned, the variations in style and the magnificent diversity dazzled, with all 20 wines noted as individual expressions with most showing no regard for conformity. In the Cape wines the judges’ notes made reference to elements of citrus coming to the fore, with some distinct maritime and oceanic influences, especially in the Diemersdal Winter Ferment (Durbanville), Steenberg Black Swan (Constantia) and the Sauvignon Blanc from D’Aria (Durbanville).

Top wine.

The Alvi’s Drift Sauvignon Blanc notched a commendable 92.2pts, one of the highest-scoring wines in total. Originating from Worcester, regarded as a warmer region, the judges found the wine’s combination of diverse fruit flavours ranging from tropical, citrus and melon, and the balanced balance weight and length of finish to be “fantastically satisfying”. At the revealing of the wines labels, most judges were amazed to find it to be a Worcester wine, reinforcing the fact that as far as regional potential goes, South Africa has still got a lot to reveal in future.

Stellenbosch continues its reputation as the mother-ship of South African wine, being able to offer a host of varietal wines at the very top echelons of quality. Besides the Stark-Condé, stalwart Stellenbosch Estate Thelema garnered a very respective 92pt rating with a wine showing “balance, poise and harmony”…”just the right amount of perky pyrazine perking-up the mélange of tropical and stone-fruit”.

Ironically, when descriptions of austerity were used, they were aimed at New Zealand wines, underscoring Crawford’s incorporating wines of less opulence, more texture and lower thiol expression.

Loveblock, an organic wine, was described as “fluid granite and minerals with a hit of stone-fruit and wild-flowers”. Zephyr Mark III was another wine with “forceful minerality and wake-me-up citrus zest”. State of Flux from Yealands Estate showed ample “bruised apple and lime-peel”, was “grippy and engaging” on the palate and had just enough reduction “to make it interesting”.

If this tasting had been held 10 years ago the notes would be filled with enough grass to feed a herd of Cape buffalo, more asparagus than found at an Auckland waterfront eatery and enough pyrazine to arouse a wine scientist.

Yet, talk of these traits was about as scarce as a Cloudy Bay clam in the Sea Point swimming-pool. “Dandelion” and “green-leaf” came-up once or twice, and an asparagus featured somewhere. Fruitiness, but restrained; ocean and mineral; texture and palate-weight; delectable drinkability….this was what was going around among the 20 wines. That were, all in all, fantastic examples of fine Sauvignon Blanc from two great wine-producing nations.

NZ Villa Maria Reserve 2020
NZ Astrolabe 2020
RSA Stark-Condé Wines Round Mountain Sauvignon Blanc 2020
NZ Giesen The August 2020
RSA Alvi’s Drift Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2020
RSA Thelema Mountain Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2020
NZ Greywacke 2020                   
RSA De’Aria Songbird 2020
RSA Spier 21 Gables
RSA Steenberg The Black Swan  2020
RSA KWV Classic Collection Cathedral Cellar 2020
RSA Diemersdal Winter Ferment Sauvignon 2020
RSA Stellenbosch Vineyards Southern View 2020
NZ TWR 2020
NZ Jules Taylor OTQ 2020
NZ MK III Zephyr 2020
NZ Loveblock 2020
NZ State of Flux Yealands Estate 2020
RSA Le Grand Domaine Wines The Pledge Our Darling Sauvignon Blanc 2020
NZ Dog Point 2020

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2 thoughts on “NZ vs SA Sauvignon Blanc: Report

  1. What a great job— well done!! Fascinating in the extreme. Never seen a better picture of Dr Bowman anywhere. Who did it? Must be all that Sauvignon Blanc. And Erica Crawford really looks as if she has balls.

    1. Oh Greg, the photographer was none other than Ms Fiona McDonald moonlighting as Annie Liebowitz! She does accept commisions.

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