One of the oddities of wine tasting is that fans widely agree sauvignon blancs from New Zealand’s top Marlborough region taste like gooseberries — even though few of us have ever tasted said berries.
It was true of me for a long time. I recognized the flavor that other tasters ascribed to “gooseberry” wines — snappy and tart, crisp and saliva-inducing, pungent, with hints of grapefruit, lemons, limes and herbs. Altogether delightful as an aperitif or with seafood, even shellfish.
I mentioned this to a winery rep at a tasting in California once, and a week later, a small can of gooseberries arrived at my address. So now, of course, I’m an expert. Incidentally, the berries are bright yellow-green and fairly small. Very tasty in a tart sort of way. Popular in pies and jams in the United Kingdom, I’m told.
What creates a gooseberry flavor? I suppose it’s the terroir — the soil and climate. The Marlborough region, located at the northeast tip of New Zealand’s South Island, is divided by the Wairau Valley, created eons ago by glaciers. It’s sunny and dry, with warm days, cool nights and a long growing season — ideal conditions for crisp and lively wines.
Try a Marlborough sauvignon blanc and see if you don’t agree.
• 2011 Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand: crisp and rich, with aromas and flavors of gooseberries, minerals and grapefruit; $22.
• 2012 Mills Reef Winery Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand: very rich, with aromas and flavors of grapefruit, lemons and herbs; $15.
• 2010 Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand: aromas and flavors of gooseberries, peaches and minerals; $26.
• 2011 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand: light and crisp, with aromas and flavors of peaches, apricots and minerals; $14.
• 2012 Woollaston Estates Sauvignon Blanc, Nelson, New Zealand: rich and crisp, with intense grapefruit and mineral flavors; $16.
• 2011 Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand: light and lean, with aromas and flavors of oranges and grapefruit; $18.
• 2011 Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc, North Canterbury, New Zealand: full-bodied and rich, with aromas and flavors of peaches, mangos and herbs; $16.