Cloudy Bay 2020 review: what’s the new vintage like?
Cloudy Bay is a wine icon that defined a novel style and a new region. Once the height of fashion, it could so easily be resting on its laurels, so can it still cut it? Here’s my review of the new release.
Named after the body of water that Captain Cook came across during his voyage to New Zealand in 1770, the estate was created by Australian pioneer David Hohnen in 1985, at a time when cows roamed the pasture that is now the country’s most important wine region. Founding winemaker Kevin Judd created a cult cuvée that dared to be different, building the kind of brand awareness and loyalty that we seldom see in the wine world. Such was its success, and lustre of luxury, that in 2003 it became part of Louis Vuitton Möet Hennessy (you can read about a brief visit to Cloudy Bay here).
I first discovered Cloudy Bay in the mid 90s. Back then, I bought a lot of wine at my local Majestic in Shepherds Bush. The manager came from central casting: bright, knowledgeable and always eager to please. Knowing I loved it, he would call me when the latest vintage arrived, having held back a couple of cases. I loved its fruit forward freshness, concentration and its ability to add some nuance to what was then merely an emerging Marlborough style. Over the years I also learnt, largely by accident, that it ages really well.
Could the curse of 2020 be lifted?
I still have some bottles stashed away in the cellar, but I haven’t actually bought Cloudy Bay for quite a few years now – my tastes have evolved, it’s pricey for a Kiwi Sauvignon and I just felt I had moved on – so I was intrigued to try the new vintage, the first ’20 to pass my lips, a big moment for me. Could the curse of 2020 be lifted?
I was really impressed.
Perhaps a parable for lockdown, it felt like catching up with a good friend that you haven’t seen for a while. Still youthful (we’re talking about the wine, not the friend), the nose is inviting, offering generous wafts of pink grapefruit, lemongrass, elderflower and kaffir lime leaf, with those famous Marlborough thiols kept on a tight leash. As distinctive as ever, well balanced, the texture is textbook, with fine layers of juicy stone fruit packed like leaves of filo pastry around a refreshing mineral core. As befits the wine outpost of a luxury goods empire, it has the elegance and poise of a supermodel (either male or female, as you wish) and it’s only going to get better.
2020 was a great year for Marlborough, but it came perilously close to being the vintage that never was. With New Zealand’s nationwide lockdown hitting just as the harvest was about to start, there were genuine fears that the grapes could be left to rot on the vines. Thankfully, after a few nail-biting days, the wine industry was given special status, meaning it could operate in a bubble of its own as the rest of the country stayed at home.
“It was the best fruit I’ve seen in the five years I’ve been here and we all feared it was going to go to waste,” says winemaker Daniel Sorrell, “you get about 20 shots as a winemaker to make something truly special and I believe 2020 is one of those.”
“Mother Nature dealt us a great hand, meaning that we could slow things down and pick when we wanted, which was a luxury,” he adds.
Blended from 91 different parcels from plots across the Wairau Valley, all vinified separately, four percent was fermented in used oak barriques and larger vats, with the rest in stainless steel at a cooler temperature.
“This is such an iconic wine, it’s a privilege to make,” Sorrell says, “people love Cloudy Bay for what it is, but the wine has evolved and we want to keep adding layers and levels to it,” Sorrell says.
Aiming to prove that Cloudy Bay is more than just an upmarket quaffer, the Zoom tasting also featured sample tubes of the 2006 and 2016 releases. The former has real grace, revealing very subtle, enticing petrol notes, its citrus character amplified by age, while the latter still feels bright and focused, the textural layers enhanced by its four years in bottle.
“You can drink it in its youth and it just keeps getting better … you’ll be able to put the wines down for 20 plus years,” Sorrell assures us, “not that anyone actually does, which is a shame.”
Cloudy Bay 2020 Sauvignon Blanc (£25.99 at Majestic Wine or currently £19.49 on a Mix Six promotion).