Cloudy Bay Te Koko: A Truly Unique Sauvignon Blanc

published Oct 6, 2011
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Looking for something extra special and different from New Zealand? If so, I recommend Te Koko from Cloudy Bay. It will change your mind about Sauvignon Blanc.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
I am sure most of our readers (certainly the wine-loving ones) are familiar with the indisputable pungency and zestiness of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wine. While I have long been a fan of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (high acidity and all that vibrant, juicy fruit), I have to admit that sometimes I tire of the wine. Not that there is ever anything wrong with any New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc tasted, but they do start to taste boring, too much sameness and not enough surprise.

That said, there are still a number of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wines that never fail to distinguish themselves including Craggy Range, Vavasour, Wairau, Ata Rangi,Villa Maria and of course Cloudy Bay, whose regular Sauvignon Blanc bottlings go well beyond straightforward racy fruit, showing texture, depth and a certain minerality.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

But, coming back to Te Koko — Te Koko takes Sauvignon Blanc to a whole new dimension. Last week I had the pleasure to meet with Sarah Burton, winemaker at Cloudy Bay, while she was in New York. Apart from being a big rugby fan and a very talented, energetic winemaker, what struck me most about Sarah was her modesty. Truly delightful, given her position at what is probably New Zealand’s most famous winery.

We tasted through the Cloudy Bay wine range, the new 2011 Sauvignon Blanc (lively, juicy and thoroughly refreshing — almost a little too young?), the 2009 Chardonnay (delicious, subtle and refined) the 2009 Pinot Noir (vibrant, silky, minerally) and the 2006 Te Koko Sauvignon Blanc (read on…..).

While this was not my first encounter with Te Koko, it stopped me in my tracks. This wine is all about texture, minerality, complexity and what I can only describe as a free spirit, a wine telling its own special story as it expands on the palate. The Sauvignon Blanc typicity still shines through, though it is more subtle, refined and incredibly complex. With every whiff and taste Te Koko continues to unfold and draw you in.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Te Koko’s Winemaking
Te Koko is not a typical New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wine. It emerged as a result of winemaking curiosity back in 1991. It is unusual in that the way it is made goes against the grain of archetypal New Zealand winemaking. The wine is fermented in small oak barrels (but only 10% new barrels), using natural yeasts. The fermentation temperature is not controlled, so it ferments more slowly than a typical New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Malolactic fermentation (that which converts harsh malic acid into softer lactic acid) which is generally eschewed in Sauvignon Blanc winemaking is not inhibited in Te Koko. If it happens, so be it. If not, so be it too.

After the fermentation Te Koko spends about 18 months on its lees (the dead yeast cells) in the barrel, with occasional stirring if appropriate. Time spent on the lees creates palate weight, richness and texture. After bottling it spends another 18 months aging in their cellars, generating even more complexity in the wine, before being released to the market. So, all in all it is almost a four year process compared to about nine to twelve months for most New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wines.

The 2006 Te Koko, in my opinion, while delicious to drink right now can age and evolve even more for the next 6 to 8 years. The acidity, extract, fruit, minerality and length are all present in spades.

Unfortunately, a wine of this caliber that is so costly to produce (think about it — almost six years since the grapes were harvested to get it on the U.S. shelves) does not come cheap. Te Koko retails for about $50 and is widely available in major metropolitan areas around the country. So it is an ideal wine to gift or cellar for a special birthday, anniversary or other distant celebration.

Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant.

Related: Wine: Great Value Sauvignon Blanc Wines From Around the World

<(Images: Mary Gorman and Cloudy Bay)