What a year! I feel we all must be exhausted hearing about what hard year its been, therefore I want to take this time to reflect on some good things, specifically wine...
I understand the struggles thousands have gone through this year in the Wine World, whether it was redundancies, unable to find labour or have the capabilities to help with harvest or even just feeling the heavy burden surrounding COVID. It has been a difficult year and I don't want to take away from that. However, I wish to enter 2021 on a positive note and with that I wish to discuss the topic which seems to be taking the Wine World by storm... the 2020 Cloudy Bay release.
Cloudy Bay is a staple, it is what brought the light to New Zealand wine and leads the way of the iconic NZ Sauvignon style. The style is loved by many and used as a benchmark for comparison. Therefore, I want to discuss with you what my thoughts are. Is this 'buzz' a clever marketing ploy from the Queen of marketing herself, LVMH? Has it been used to bring positivity to this bleak year by highlighting the camaraderie that helped produce it? Or is it really just one of the winery best, as is being stated...
Cloudy bay was founded in 1985 and was one of the first 5 producers in Marlborough. In 2003 it was acquired by Veuve Clicquot. Presently it is owned by parent company and luxury conglomerate LVMH, owner of many well known wine houses. New Zealand is still pretty new to the Wine World and producers such as Cloudy Bay have helped put it on the map. As previously stated, Cloudy Bay is located in Marlborough, this area now accounts for 80% of the countries production and has the most expensive vineyard sites. The areas vineyard space is 85% Sauvignon Blanc grapes.
The area has since seen great investment due to the easy production process, no ageing, no oak, no expensive intervention techniques which allow NZ Sauvignon to be produced, bottled and released within the year. Marlborough benefits from long days and sunshine which help ripen the grapes beautifully, cool nights helping to retain acidity and relatively dry autumns, reducing disease risk. These autumns allow the grapes to ripen for longer, concentrating flavours and building sugar yet still retaining the high acidity needed to effectively balance the wine.
The 2020 harvest in Marlborough is being deemed 'extraordinary.' This isn't just due to wine business being deemed 'essential' by the New Zealand government, allowing the harvest to be collected and wine production to still operate, albeit under extremely strict conditions which could be pulled at any minute.
Marlborough also saw a long dry season which brought with it colder conditions towards the end of the Summer season, which allowed for a longer 'hang' time resulting in the flavour concentration as discussed above. Ultimately, this meant that the grapes of the 2020 harvest were bursting full of flavour. The lucky thing about the 2020 harvest time was the rainfall.
Water is important for growing grapes but timing is crucial. Too close to harvest and grapes will balloon and flavours diluted. Too close to bud-burst and yields can be affected. If too little water throughout, vines can be water stressed and this can greatly impact grape growing. The balance is extremely difficult. What made 2020 so successful was the large quantities of rain in the second week of December 2019, this water will have been retained by the soils, strengthened vines, filled water stores and helped vines get ready for the summer. In 2019 however, this water did not come until January and February where it was very sparse. Water stress, drought and low irrigation supplies saw some vineyards seeing the crippling effect, water restrictions were implemented in February and lasted until March. From research, it seems the weather for the 2020 harvest could not have been more prefect.
To efficiently draw my own conclusions to this ongoing discussions I bought the last of the 2019 vintage I had in work and a bottle of the newly in 2020. I decided when better to enjoy these than New Years Eve! As most of the world was having a cosy night in, I thought a comparison tasting might be a fun way to wait for the Bells! On the eye, both were a very similar colour, pale lemon... exactly as expected. On the nose however, is where it got exciting. The 2019 was a classic Sauvignon Blanc, gooseberry, honeydew, grapefruit, peach and stone fruit yet with a slight herbashiousness. If I had been given this wine on its own, I would have happily accepted and enjoyed a classic NZ Sauvignon. In comparison the 2020 was far more pronounced, I could smell it when I was pouring! Bursting full of juicy ripe tropical fruit, passionfruit, mango, ripe stone fruit such as apricot and nectarine and the classic gooseberry and honeydew undertone, I would happily wear this scent as a perfume!
Structurally, on the pallet the wines were similar, high acid, medium body, yet the dryness was slightly different. By no means sweet, the 2020 has so much more ripe fruit that it is edging towards off-dry. I tasted these wines with my brother, who said if he hadn't been with me he wouldn't have seen much of a difference. I wonder if that would be the same for other non wine lovers or if my nose just has had more practice than his!
Let’s conclude, both wines are beautiful. Classic NZ Sauvignon Blanc staples. The 2019 is a great wine and if drank on its own I would greatly enjoy, however now I've had the 2020, I would reach for this instead. The concentration of fruit is divine yet still delicate that it doesn't feel like sickly juice. The beautiful balance between this almost off-dry intensity and acidity is perfect. As well as this, the positivity surrounding the weather, camaraderie of winemakers and labourers and the excitement of a good product coming out of 2020, beating all the odds, makes it a winner for me.
The buzz was justified, I feel everyone can feed off this beautifully cultivated golden nectar and take something good away with them as 2020 drew to a close. I was more than happy sitting next to a cosy fire, with the people I love most waving goodbye to what was a very strange yet eye opening year, ready for the challenge, excitement and freshness of the year ahead...
I hope you and your families have a happy and safe New Year, Cheers!