My visceral dislike of Marlborough sauvignon blanc is hardly a tightly guarded secret; and yes, I did once describe it as “one-dimensional cat-piss briefly soaked in lemon zest” but that was in reference to the Oyster Bay offering that is the biggest selling sauvignon blanc in the country. It’s a style that is as popular as a bottle shop in a lockdown and sadly, Australians have for too long been sold the Emperor’s new clothes with the Marlborough marketing machines pushing out pallets of gooseberry flavoured cordial leanly laced with lashings of lime. I get that it’s an approachable style that is zippy and light, but to my palate, it has all the complexity of an unsophisticated amoeboid.
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Fortunately for lovers of savvie, there’s a rainbow on the horizon as South Australia’s Adelaide Hills has come of age as a producer of Australia’s favourite white varietal. The Adelaide Hills are one of the wine districts that were badly impacted by the devastating fires earlier this year, but are rebuilding, consolidating and still churning out some quality wines – including sauvignon blanc. From Piccadilly Valley in the south to Mount Lofty towards the north, the local wineries include some of the biggest names in the South Australian industry – think brands like Nepenthe, Tomich, Bird in Hand and O’Leary Walker. And if there’s a standout style from the district, it has to be the victor of a gunfight between shiraz and sauvignon blanc. Personally, I’d lean towards the higher altitude, cooler climate shiraz, but for those who enjoy a sauvignon blanc, the regional product is a far superior product to that which arrives in container loads from across the ditch.
One of the Adelaide Hills savvies that seems to make its way on to restaurant wine lists with monotonous regularity is the Shaw and Smith which comes from their Balhannah and Lenswood vineyards. The winery is the brainchild of cousins Michael Hill Smith MW and Martin Shaw. They started the place in 1989 planting 20 hectares of vines and it has grown to the point of being named as having the Best Large Cellar Door in 2020 by Gourmet Traveller – and their sauvignon blanc is first class.
What I like about the Adelaide Hills sauvignon blanc (and the Shaw and Smith example) is the multidimensional nature of the wine. Not only is there plenty on the nose and ample fruit upfront on the palate, but there are layers of complexity with richness of fruit, intensity of flavour as well as acidic balance and harmony on the conclusion. The 2020 Shaw and Smith sauvignon blanc is very light in colour and shows ample citrus and grapefruit characters on the palate. It’s lively, fresh and has a racy acidity that tightens the conclusion to maintain a semblance of dignity that the Kiwi styles seem incapable of. At less than $30 a bottle, it’s a much better option than the mass produced Marlborough sauvalanche.
Summer is approaching and zesty whites will soon be a holiday staple – and we should look no further than the Adelaide Hills for reliable inspiration.