I recently stopped at Primehouse, a Manhattan steakhouse, for a light dinner. The list offered Culley Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2008, from New Zealand, by the glass for $11. I first met Neill Culley in the mid-1990s when he was making wine for Babich. Culley started his own project, Cable Bay Vineyards, in 1996, planting the estate’s first grapes on Waiheke Island two years later.
Neill started the Culley range (focusing on Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir) as a bridge between his Babich tenure and the Cable Bay startup. He had good grape sources in Marlborough and at the same time was approached by a direct mail company in New Zealand who wanted him to make wine under his own name for them. The first vintage was 2002. It’s a more affordable range and marketed separately from Cable Bay.
The Sauvignon Blanc evoked aromas of gooseberry, with hints of passion fruit, grapefruit and freshly cut grass flavors. Crisp and balanced, it had an up-front impact and dry, citrusy finish; I gave it 88 points, non-blind.
Though I enjoyed the bright, crisp notes of the wine, it was dominated by the smoky flavor and rich texture of the tuna tartare. The wine was tasty and the tuna delicious, however, they did not make the best pairing.
WineSpectator.com members: Get scores and tasting notes for more recently rated New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs.
• Plus, learn more about New Zealand’s Surge in wine quality in our magazine archives.
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