The latest Wine Spectator Wine of the Week selection, Stoneburn Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2010 at under $ 10 made me sit up and make a mental note of the continuously falling prices of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc during the last year or so, that might make my favourite white more affordable in India where some price corrections might help New Zealand increase their share.
‘Come to Marlboro country. Come to where the flavor is.’ –ugh!
‘Come to Marlboro-ugh country. Come to where the flavour is.’
There is a seeming paradox in the above slogans but not if you knew that the former relates to Marlboro cigarettes and I have been always an active anti-smoker. More than 15 years ago, I actively campaigned and made the Rotary Club I belonged to, the first Non-Smoker Rotary Club in India when there was still opposition to ban on smoking in public and the ill effects of passive smoking were still being debated. The Marlboro flavor reminded me of cancer, stale smoke and a feeling of nausea. (My sincere apologies to smokers)
The latter was like sweet music to my ears and a soothing sensation to my palate since the first time I tried it over 20 years ago. The tropical flavours of mango, citrus, gooseberries, passion fruit, have always been pleasing. Despite wine snobs looking for the 5th dimension (the x-factor beyond colour, nose, flavour and after-taste characteristics), starting to give a thumbs down to the Marlborough Sauvignon for its ‘boring’ and predictable character (like Champagne?!), I have always loved the fresh crispiness and fruity flavours, especially the tropical ones.
I had to hide my disappointment when we blind-tasted several samples of Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand at the Hong Kong International Wine Competition last November and found that some of them were atypical-with the grassiness, vegetal characters more predominant along with the cat’s pee which is apparently a favourite of cat lovers. I was told that in order to compete better in the world markets the producers were experimenting with changing style.
Perhaps they are looking at the Australian market which is the most significant importer of New Zealand wines and is looking at reducing imports because of its own excess availability. Perhaps they are worried about the UK market where, reportedly, Tesco bought their wine at less than £2 a bottle due to the grape glut during the last couple of vintages and that made Dan Jago, Tesco Category Director for beers, wines and spirits, to apparently comment after the purchase that if left to him, he would have thrown the wine in the gutter rather than supply at such low prices and depreciate the brand value of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
I remember fantasizing about how great it would have been to have it exported to India as wine promotion, at no cost instead. Perhaps with the genuine cost as zero, the effective import duties at 160% would have been zero and every nook and corner in India could have tasted a wine that nobody I know has ever disliked, especially when it was the first ever wine glass.
Wine of the Week selection- Stoneburn Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2010 at under $ 10 quite tickled my senses. It is seldom that one finds the SB from the slightly over-rated but successful region at less than $15-20 in the U.S. market. I went to my favourite wine-searcher.com website and clicked ‘under $10’. I was pleasantly surprised with a number of wines now retailing for $7-8 in the US and even UK-some even at $ 6 (taxes extra). Cup Cake, Matua and Monkey Bay were a few of the labels being offered by a multitude of merchants.
A search at the Tesco website where one can still discover some quality and value wines due to their half-price sales policy, showed a never-heard-of Taniwha Sauvignon Blanc that sells for affordable £6 ($9.4) while their private label still sells for a higher price at £8 ($12.50). I always wondered whatever happened to the wine reportedly purchased by Dan Jago at a throw-away price.
However, all the labels at the above sites seemed unfamiliar, except Nobilo and Villa Maria which are flirting with the $10 mark and are presumably known in India; Matua has also finally made its presence recently.
Nobilo was earlier imported by Sula and was available in Delhi for Rs.1200 a bottle in retail. Apparently, people thought it to be too expensive and eventually Sula had to discontinue the imports. Villa Maria was imported by Sansula earlier but was taken away by Brindco a couple of years back. It is listed most in restaurants in their wine lists and at times at banquets where discernible hosts don’t mind spending a notch or two higher than the bottom of the price barrel- still the order of the day.
High import taxes being the Dictat- Delhi being even further gagged by the excise duty of 30% on the MRP and thus translating to more than even the effective customs duty of 160% on CIF value, one is generally deprived of the sensuous Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough.
I could not find any Sauvignon in the four retail wine stores I visited in Delhi. I know Kim Crawford, Sileni, Montana, Cloudy Bay, Goldwater, Huia are a few of the brands that have been in India for some time, some of them languishing because of high quality and higher prices but they can still be spotted in the 5-star hotel lists in the costly to more costly range.
Despite the continuing appreciation of the NZ dollar, if the Indian importers can get a basement bargain price as seems to be the case in the US and UK markets and pass it on to the consumer, more people at the grass root level may be afforded an opportunity to taste an interesting import. Since most Indian producers have Sauvignon Blanc in their portfolio (I don’t know of a single one that does not have it), Marlborough would also give them a benchmark in quality and flavour, though Nashik has its own terroir-driven flavour.
Till then-carry on drinking Indian Sauvignon Blanc, some of which are not bad really, and generally at Rs.450-550 a bottle retail, are still affordable and worth a try.