Working as a Sommelier in the early 1990s, I vividly recall oenophiles’ desire to seek out and enjoy Cloudy Bay, Sauvignon Blanc. It almost seemed like a right of passage. The only issue was availability – it was nigh on impossible to get hold of. Was this what made it so sought after, or was it the tropical fruit bowl in a glass that was so different and new? 

Cloudy Bay was undoubtedly at the top of its game whatever they were doing. It was superb, fresh, full of flavour and virtually unchallenged. Did it put New Zealand wine on the map? I believe it was instrumental in doing so and proved that as a country it could produce high-end wines that were quite unlike anything else at the time. 

Cloudy Bay (formed in 1995) had a pedigree in the form of David Hohnen, who owned the fabulous Cape Mentelle wine estate in Margaret River,  Western Australia. It is a region I know well, having worked the harvest in 1994 for Lenton Brae and subsequently being commissioned to write a book on the Wines of Australia. The area captivated me back then. It was very agricultural with tasting rooms often no more than a tin shed. Beaches were desolate even on a Saturday. Today it is multi-million dollar tasting rooms, restaurants and luxury resorts. My biggest regret is not investing in property here. 

Cloudy Bay was different from virtually any other wine available at the time. It was a new style, not encountered before and paved the way for dozens of others. It stood proud, the godfather if you like, and continued to hold a fascination for many years, as it still does. The label, showing the Richmond Ranges shrouded in cloud gave it a sense of place and mystique. What was this wine like? 

As a Michelin-starred restaurant, one of only 43 in the country in the mid-1990s, our allocation seemed to be generous, and we hardly ever ran out if at all. This bought guests in, not only for the food but the opportunity to enjoy this almost mythical Sauvignon they had read so much about. I loved to see their faces light up when I confirmed we had Cloudy Bay in stock, it really didn’t matter what food was ordered, for them there was only going to be one option (out of 350 or so bottles) for them. 

Over time they released a Pinot Noir which had a level of elegance not found in Australian versions. I found that it aged very well by accident. I would purchase a few bottles for my personal collection and place them in different Burgundy or Bordeaux wooded cases, which I re-sealed with nails. Opening them a few years later was always something I enjoyed. What had I laid down? It was always a pleasant surprise, but not all wines stood the test of time so well. To pull the cork on the Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir and smell those gorgeous fruit notes escaping was magical. 

Today, Cloudy Bay is far more readily available and even found in Sainsbury’s. It has become accessible since LVMH bought the estate in 2003, through their investment and distribution. This has widened the appeal of the wine, bringing it not to the masses, but to those who are prepared to pay the extra money to enjoy one of the world’s iconic wines. But has this investment diminished the quality of the wine? 

The foundation of any wine is the grapes, and therefore the vineyards. Located in 3 sub-regions (Rapaura, Renwick and Brancott) in the heart of the sparsely populated Wairau Valley in Marlborough, they have 163 parcels of vines and 65 growers blocks, across all the varieties they grow. Yields are circa 30% lower than others in the region, ensuring only the finest bunches are selected, and thus improving the quality of the wines. Jim White, the estate technical director, oversees 100-110 batches of grapes which are fermented separately to allow blending at a later date to ensure the Cloudy Bay DNA is maintained. 

Taste is by default subjective and Cloudy Bay does divide opinion with its full-on fruit bowl-in-a-glass taste. For me, it is not a wine I could drink every day, in much the same way I wouldn’t drink a very hop-driven craft IPA beer every day. But it is a wine I could enjoy on a regular basis. It is perfect in the garden on a beautiful day, the sun’s rays beating down as you relax into a great conversation. In fact, it may be too perfect for that, necessitating multiple bottles as they just seem to vanish through your desire to have more. Alternatively, try Cloudy Bay with a slice of wild salmon served with a beurre blanc sauce, Jersey Royals and mange tout. The acidity and fruit complement it perfectly. 

The current 2022 vintage is an explosion of tropical fruits, led by ripe passion fruit and baked peaches. It has a wonderful zesty acidity to it which works so well with every present citrus notes. After all these years it is still a wine I very much enjoy. I believe that everyone should try it at least once. It is part of New Zealand’s wine history and tastes so good.