To the letter: Brancott Estate ‘R’ Sauvignon Gris 2011, Marlborough

Brancott Estate should be commended on not just one facet of their business, but on their all-encompassing attitude to achieving. You can come to this conclusion by observing their stunning Heritage Centre which operates as their cellar door, wine experience and lunch-time restaurant perched atop the eponymous vine-filled valley; by considering their audacious move to produce and market a super-premium Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, ‘Chosen Rows’, launched earlier this year as well as a low-alcohol range of wines; and by ruminating on their polished label design and multi-media marketing campaigns.

It helps that this wine business has parent company Pernod Ricard and its attendant resources at its side to facilitate all these wonderful developments and strategies, but there is clearly ambitious initiative working within the parameters of the company. Many wine producers are now very environment focused and Brancott Estate is no exception – they have enjoyed recognition from Qualmark in the guise of its Enviro Award, their Living Land wine range raises money for conservation and they have established the Heritage Centre as a venue to get up close and personal with New Zealand’s native falcons.

A smooth brand transition took place from Montana to Brancott Estate after the decision was made in 2010 to swap from the decades-old moniker. Through this metamorphosis I believe they have managed to retain brand equity and loyalty and have perhaps gained a new, younger generation of customers through their revitalised, contemporary look. As is so often the way with New Zealand’s most successful wine businesses, Brancott Estate can be traced back to a Croatian immigrant. Ivan Yukich planted his first vines in Auckland in 1934. Prodigy Mate and Frank set up Montana wines in 1961, the expansion and growth of which propagated to several wine regions in New Zealand – the Marlborough arm came to be known as Brancott Estate and proudly nourishes some of the oldest vines in the region (est. 1973).

Nowadays possessing a French skeleton, Brancott Estate still has ample amount of Kiwi flesh – this comes in the form of fervently capable Chief Winemaker Patrick Materman and an important array of principal staff. These guys have demonstrated that Marlborough can grow Sauvignon Gris very successfully. The Letter Series ‘R’ Sauvignon Gris in my opinion is one of Brancott Estate’s strongest wines: not only is it well-made, it has an interesting varietal point of difference. Sauvignon Gris is not a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris – it is a variety in itself having its origins in Bordeaux.

A gorgeous fruit bowl of melon, pear, nectarine and mandarin materialises in the 2011 rendition. There are notes of blackcurrant leaf and just a subtle hint of cut grass. It also reminds me a little of Gruner Veltliner for there’s a distinctive white pepper note which adds another layer of interest to the nose. Fruit is sourced from the Brancott Valley, the company’s Renwick vineyard from which the name is derived, and from newer plantings in the Awatere valley. This cross-section enables an interesting blend incorporating a variety of flavours. The palate of this wine is balanced, with an impression of fatness on the palate that is poised with enough natural acidity to ensure it remains elegant. The wine is perceptibly dry though there’s lovely fruit sweetness and some tertiary interest developing – perhaps an element of lanolin.

This is a clean, exciting and thought-provoking wine that would be perfect to challenge someone with in a blind tasting. It is also a superb wine to match with food. I would suggest a chilled mango and pomelo soup infused with lemon grass, or a lovely piece of salmon grilled with orange and thyme.

2011 Brancott Estate Letter Series ‘R’ Renwick Sauvignon Gris, Marlborough. 
90 points