Great whites The past few years have seen a huge rise in popularity for New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Riding the crest of this wave is Cloudy Bay, a producer located in Marlborough, on the northern tip of the South Island, that has been filling our glasses since 1985.
Before that, sauvignon blanc was considered a poor cousin to the chardonnay-based white wines of Burgundy. Even the best sauvignon blancs from the Loire Valley were not considered as serious as Burgundy's Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Corton-Charlemagne.
Today, Cloudy Bay has no peers. Nevertheless, many winemakers try to emulate its style of sauvignon blanc. Marlborough-based Oyster Bay, for example, is a volume-driven producer that makes a very quaffable sauvignon blanc that is widely available throughout Hong Kong, including 7-Elevens. Then there's Monkey Bay, with its brightly coloured label inspired by Yellow Tail: both commercial wineries that have experienced huge success with novice wine drinkers.
A typical New Zealand sauvignon blanc, particularly one from Marlborough, has a distinctive nose of vibrant lime zest, grapefruit juice, gooseberries, freshly cut grass and a certain je ne sais quoi that we wine geeks like to call "eau de kitty litter" - or cat's pee. It's very citrusy, with high acidity and a pale, barely there straw colour with a wide watery rim.
However, I'm seeing a reflex, "been-there, tasted-that" reaction to its presence on wine lists these days, as wine-drinkers start to explore other options. So, what's next?
My guess is the next big grape will be pinot grigio. The best come from northern Italy - Alto Adige comes to mind. I'm a fan of the wines from Alois Lageder: 50 hectares of its vineyards are biodynamic and the rest follows sustainable bio-organic practices. Its wines are very pure with fresh, lively fruit, bright, tartly crisp apple and pear flavours with lovely hints of white flowers and a gentle bit of white pepper. Wines from further south are much "fattier", with less-crisp apple flavours creeping in.
In Alsace, pinot grigio is called pinot gris and can vary in colour from deep yellow-gold to pale pink. The grape has light purple skin and if the juice is left in contact with the skins after pressing, it can pick up a bit of colour. The resulting wine has a refreshing, lush melon-y apple flavour with a bit of tropical fruit in riper years.
But the biggest difference is in the levels of acidity: instead of the sharp acidity of a New Zealand sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio is much more moderate. To a jaded palate over-exposed to sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio is a refreshing change that's much easier to sip.
Nellie Ming Lee is a food stylist and part-time sommelier studying with the Court of Master Sommeliers.