Lots of white wine drinkers have switched to sauvignon blanc over recent years for two basic reasons – they like the taste and the price-tags.
Prices generally remain below those of other quality whites, although they have been edging up lately, along with most other wines on retailers’ shelves.
As for the taste, I have not very often been disappointed, despite marked differences between Old World and New World versions.
Certainly, when you order sauvignon blanc in a good restaurant you can be reasonably sure what you will get.
The grape originates in Bordeaux, but New Zealand producers have grown it with huge success, and it was one of the first wines there to be bottled with screwcap closures; it is drunk young, and doesn’t gain from ageing.
Villa Maria, which has won more awards than any other producer in the country, has just unveiled the first wines from the 2011 vintage, displaying the pristine quality which has made it famous worldwide.
It was fascinating to compare four wines from various sub-regions, displaying different facets of the same grape, some subtle, some more marked.
New Zealand sauvignon blancs have been described as fruit salad in a glass, but this is a generalisation which ignores the elegance and finesse of some of the best brands.
These qualities are displayed in Villa Maria Single Vineyard Graham Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (13.5 per cent, £14.99, Majestic and Ocado).
For me, a glass of this very concentrated, aromatic white brightened up a gloomy late January evening with its lively, herbaceous style and firm mineral background.
Recommended, especially with fish: I drank it with a salmon steak in a tangy sauce, along with noodles and spinach.
The producer says its Villa Maria Single Vineyard Taylors Passage Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (13 per cent, £14.99, Tesco) will gain richness from ‘short term’ bottle age.
Right now, it offers particularly fragrant whiffs of ripe gooseberries and cut grass, and mouth-filling flavours of gooseberries, citrus and herbs.
The vineyard is described as very picturesque, on the north bank of the Awatere River, in Marlborough.
Grapes for Villa Maria Reserve Wairau Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (13 per cent, £13.99, Majestic, Wine Rack, www.nzhouseofwine.co.uk) were picked from a number of vineyards throughout the valley.
Maturation on the lees for three to four months helped to create a complex, rich wine, displaying both aromas and tastes of gooseberries and grapefruit.
An intense, fulsome wine for fish and poultry, or drinking all by itself.
More subtle variations on the SB theme, although the colour remains a distinctive shiny light greenish yellow, in Villa Maria Reserve Clifford Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (13 per cent, £13.99, Sainsburys, Oddbins, www.nzhouseofwine.co.uk).
This juicy, fruity wine has an underlying minerality and very fetching aromas of lime and gooseberries. Again, complexity is noticeably increased by maturing it on the lees after fermentation.