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Picking just the right time in New Zealand


It's all in the pick.

That's what's key in making a rock-star sauvignon blanc, according to Sam Small of New Zealand's Starborough.

"The most crucial thing is the timing of harvest," he said. "Too early and the wine is green, too late and you can lose flavor intensity."

Small is the chief winemaker behind our wine-of-the-week winner — the Starborough, 2013 Marlborough, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. It's a steal at $15 for those mad about New Zealand-style sauvignon blanc.

It's a racy, grassy sauvignon blanc that's edgy, with zesty notes of grapefruit, lime and that deliciously wicked jalape?.

Grooming grapes for this bottling requires precision, Small said.

"We select grapes from carefully managed vineyards that show not only varietal intensity but a great range of flavors," he said. "To do this, we have 34 different growers in all sub-regions of Marlborough."

This wine-growing region is located on the northern tip of the southern island, and today more than two-thirds of New Zealand's sauvignon blanc vines are grown there.

The hot summers and cool winters foster even ripening and stronger, vibrant fruit flavors, with crisp, balanced acidity levels.

Small said the growing region is key because it's essential to strike the right acid balance for this varietal.

"You want the wine to have a clean, fresh finish, but you don't want too much, leading to shapeless and hardness on the palate," he said.

Small first fell in love with wine by touring wine country in New Zealand, and he's worked in Marlborough, northeast Italy and Napa.

"Working so much with sauvignon blanc, it's a favorite," Small said, "especially the blending from so many vineyards."

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 521-5310 or peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com.

<strong>Wine of the Week</strong>: Scouting for the tastiest mixed whites

Wine writer Peg Melnik had a blind tasting this week of mixed whites with a range of varietals, from sauvignon blanc to chardonnay to pinot blanc. While this was a very tasty flight, our wine-of-the-week winner is Starborough, 2013 Marlborough, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, a steal at $15 for those mad about this style.

<strong>TOP PICK: Starborough</strong>

<strong> Starborough, 2013 Marlborough, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc,</strong> 13 percent alcohol, $15. Four stars. A racy sauvignon blanc from New Zealand that's edgy. Grassy, with zesty notes of grapefruit, lime and that deliciously wicked jalape?. It's a great find for those crazy about this style.

<strong>Other impressive wines:</strong>

<strong>Handley, 2012 Mendocino County Pinot Blanc,</strong> 13.3 percent, $22. Four stars. Aromatic and layered, with notes of pineapple, honey and brioche. Balanced. Well-integrated. Nice length.

<strong>Souverain, 2012 North Coast, California Sauvignon Blanc,</strong> 13.5 percent, $13. Four stars. A layered sauvignon blanc that's dry, crisp and balanced. Aromas and flavors of grapefruit, lime and guava. Bright acidity. Zesty finish.

<strong>Rutherford Ranch, 2012 Napa Valley Chardonnay,</strong> 13.5 percent, $19. Four stars. A complex chardonnay with a lush texture. Creamy texture, with a nice oak treatment. Just a hint of vanilla. Flavors of white peach, pear and honeydew melon. Lingering finish.

<strong>Trione Vineyards &amp;amp; Winery, 2010 River Road Ranch, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Chardonnay,</strong> 14.1 percent, $32. Four stars. This chardonnay is complex and delicious. It has layered flavors of Gravenstein apple, cream and clove. Creamy texture. Nice length.