Sam Smail is a precocious winemaker. Traipsing through vineyards, he scouts for grapes from a variety of microclimates and plots a blend well before the grapes reach the cellar.
“I get excited about all the different styles of sauvignon blanc, even within Marlborough itself,” Smail said of the New Zealand region known for its zesty sauvignon blancs. “I like looking at the different subregions and picking out the best growing sites to deliver the qualities we want for Starborough.”
The winemaker is behind our wine-of-the-week winner –– Starborough, 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand at $17. E&J Gallo is the importer and distributor of this brand, which can often be found in grocery stores.
The Starborough is a drop dead gorgeous sauvignon blanc. It has tangy citrus fruit –– a burst of grapefruit and lime –– with screeching acidity and a hint of jalapeno. The edgy sauvignon blanc finishes crisp, a refreshing spring quaff.
“Sauvignon blanc is very site specific, meaning that the flavor profile changes depending on the climate and soils where it was grown,” Smail said. “Marlborough is a fairly cool growing region, but with lots of sunshine. That’s what gives Marlborough sauvignon blanc its distinctive flavor profile, its blend of ripe fruit characteristics and herbaceous green notes, backed up with its crisp, refreshing acidity.”
While being a winemaker is great creative play, Smail said that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
“I think the most difficult part of making sauvignon blanc,” he said, “is picking grapes at the optimal moment to capture the best flavors for your wine.”
With Starborough, Smail said he’s aiming for high tropical and citrus fruit tones with a bit of that classic Marlborough herbaceous character. He wants to showcase it as a great food wine with its notes of gooseberry and lemongrass, as well its crisp acidity on the finish.
“The wine is especially good with spicy dishes or fresh seafood,” he said.
Smail, 45, earned a Master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. He followed that up with a post graduate Diploma in Enology at the University of Adelaide in 1997.
The winemaker’s philosophy is that great wine doesn’t have to be complicated.
“Starborough isn’t about the precise technical details of the wine,” Smail said. “It’s an approachable wine we want people to enjoy with their friends and family. It captures the character of Marlborough without being too herbaceous, too tangy.”
Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 707-521-5310 or firstname.lastname@example.org.