Budget Wines: Martin’s Rake Sauvignon Blanc 2011 and Fire Road 2012 Marlborough

martin's rake

fire road Sauvignon Blanc. You either love it or hate it. Like fans of lolcats and the smell of kitty litter in the morning, Sauvignon Blanc lovers have always been, well, different because Sauvignon Blanc’s characteristic aroma note was cat pee, and only special people would want a wine to smell like that.

New Zealand’s wine industry largely depends on the fortunes of Sauvignon Blanc, and apparently they have determined there were not enough of these “special” people to buy their wine. Because this cat pee aroma seems largely to have disappeared at least among entry level wines.

I kind of miss it, not that I like lolcats or anything.

The word is that Sauvignon Blanc contains chemicals called thiols that smell like cat urine in larger concentrations. And the New Zealanders have figured out how to reduce its concentration. So most Sauvignon Blanc now exhibits flavors of gooseberry and passion fruit, which is characteristic of reduced thiol levels. And since few Americans have ever tasted passion fruit or gooseberry, Sauvignon Blanc has acquired the image of being exotic instead of gross.

My search for cat pee at the supermarket turned up empty but I did find a couple of good representations of inexpensive New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough grapes.

True to type, the Martin’s Rake has plenty of pungent passion fruit and gooseberry on the nose. (For the record, gooseberry tastes roughly like sour grapes, passion fruit like under-ripe pineapple.) The palate is richly textured, more round and full compared to most examples of this varietal. It has a nice, dry, minerality that doesn’t turn sour on the finish. Which makes this a winner in my book.

The Fire Road is aromatic, with some ethereal citrus notes to complement the gooseberry, but has less body and is more angular on both the nose and palate. It has a second shift at the end of the mid-palate in which the acidity really comes to dominate and carries through the finish. It is not quite sucking-on-a-lemon territory but it is more tart than I prefer. If I get hit with acidity, I want there to be a payoff in flavor. I didn’t find it here.

Paired with a delicious sandwich of goat cheese, fennel julienne, cucumber, apple, and mint both wines were winners. But the clear edge goes to the Martin’s Rake.

Price: Martin’s Rake $12

Fire Road $11

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