The old joke about spring in South Florida—that if you sneeze, you might miss it—isn’t strictly true. If you sneeze three or four times in a row, though, it could easily pass you by. Either way, our brief transitional season is a harbinger of hot weather to come. Wine drinkers instinctively reach for New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc when the weather heats up (no wonder last Friday was International Sauvignon Blanc Day). More often than not, they choose Nobilo.
Nikola and Zuva Nobilo left Croatia in 1936, with war on the horizon; they emigrated to New Zealand, where Nikola planted the country’s first commercial grapevines in 1943 west of Auckland. He presided over the birth of New Zealand’s wine industry, championing the use of classic grape varieties instead of hybrids, promoting the consumption of wine with food, and helping to develop Marlborough as a wine region.
It was a tough struggle at first, since the country lacked a traditional wine culture. Establishing New Zealand wine in the export market was even more challenging. Americans didn’t quite know what to make of the Sauvignon Blanc with its assertive aromatics, brilliant acidity and lack of oak. Eventually it established itself firmly in our own unique wine culture, and today Sancerre seems tame by comparison. Nobilo was acquired by BRL Hardy in 2000 and merged into Constellation three years later, but the wines are still as carefully crafted as they were when Nikola was at the helm.
The benchmark bottle is the Regional Collection Sauvignon Blanc ($12). The region is Marlborough, and the wine displays fragrant aromas of wild herbs, fresh cut grapefruit and mowed green grass. It’s just as exotic on the palate, with flavors of citrus and tropical fruit highlighted by mouthwatering acidity. Drink it with finger food, fish and shellfish, or by itself around the pool on a warm day.
If you want to see how good the category can get, invest $20 in a bottle of Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc. It displays the same crisp acidity and racy fruit, but also exhibits a lush, medium-bodied texture framed by a solid mineral backbone. It has the ability to stand up to richer fish dishes, and would not be out of place with poultry, veal or pork. With a wine this substantial on the palate, who needs oak?
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); for more information, go to amazon.com