Cloudy Bay burst on the scene in 1985. It was originally founded as the sister winery of Margaret River’s Cape Mentelle by David Hohnen, one of the seminal figures in the wine history of Western Australia. Hohnen had the crazy notion that the Marlborough region of New Zealand was a perfect climate for Sauvignon Blanc, and set out to prove it.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the American public was unfamiliar with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, the style of Cloudy Bay seemed extreme. The aromatics were striking—strong scents of grapefruit, herbs and fresh-cut grass—and the mouthwatering acidity was prominent, even startling. Today, the wine seems almost restrained. The 2009 Sauvignon Blanc ($28) is bright and crisp, racy and spicy; the prominent acidity and well-defined grapefruit flavors are still there, but the wine is far more elegant than many of its competitors.
Tim Heath, Cloudy Bay’s new winemaker, hails from Australia but also spent time working in the Northern Rhone Valley. He is a believer in juggling different ripeness levels (he calls them “flavor windows”) to “craft balanced wines that are good for the table.” This philosophy is evident in his 2006 Chardonnay ($25), which receives extra bottle age at the winery before release. The wine is rich, layered and complex, with a firm mineral backbone and bright citrus flavors, a perfect match for seafood dishes in substantial sauces. Heath’s 2007 Pinot Noir ($40) is fresh and appealing, displaying pinpoint acidity and concentrated black cherry flavors that reverberate on the finish.
Want to know exactly how good New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc can get? Pick up a bottle of the remarkable Cloudy Bay Te Koko 2006 ($50). The product of wild yeast fermentation and 18 months in used French barrels, the wine is full-bodied, powerful and spicy, bursting with bright acidity and juicy citrus. It combines the best of two styles—a wine with an Old World soul and the exuberance we’ve come to expect from New Zealand’s signature grape.