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Savor the gooseberry

True story: When New Zealand's modern sauvignon blancs burst on the scene in the 1980s, American tasters raved about their literally mouth-watering acids and pungent, vibrant gooseberry aromas.

We came to recognize them that way even though most of us had never been in the same room with a gooseberry. I mentioned that to a friend at dinner one night, and a week later, a can of gooseberries arrived in the mail.

You know what? They tasted like New Zealand sauvignon blancs. It's an orderly universe after all.

A roomful of wine fans tasted eight New Zealand sauvignon blancs and pinot noirs in a seminar at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in February, and enjoyed in the white wines those gooseberry flavors as well as the flavors of kiwi, grapefruit, cut grass and even mangos. As it turns out, it depends on the terroir -- the soil and climate -- as well as the fermenting techniques.

Hot days and cold nights are the secret, said Patrick Materman, chief winemaker for Brancott Estate in New Zealand's Marlborough region. The country's wine area extends from 35 to 45 degrees south latitude, where the heat ripens the grapes and the cold preserves their refreshing acids.

In New Zealand's coolest regions, sauvignon blancs taste like cut grass, or even take on the faintly feline aromas and flavors of France's chilly Sancerre region. Warmer areas produce tropical flavors. Pinot Noirs take to New Zealand's cool climate as well, taking a hint from the cool-weather pinots of France's Burgundy region.

"Our style is ripe fruit, high acid, fresher than pinots from Oregon or California's Russian River Valley," Materman said. "They're fruitier than those in Burgundy. The wines really reflect where they come from."

*Highly recommended:

2011 Brancott Estate Marlborough Classic Sauvignon Blanc: crisp, bright and austere, with aromas and flavors of gooseberries and herbs; $13.

2010 Brancott Estate Letter Series "T" Terraces Pinot Noir: big, rich and weighty, with aromas and flavors of red raspberries, cranberries and bittersweet chocolate; $32.


Nonvintage Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blan c Brut Sparkling Wine: lively bubbles, aromas and flavors of cut grass and kiwi; $16.

2011 Stoneleigh Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc: lively, almost spritzy, with lush tropical fruit flavors; $13.

2011 Brancott Estates Letter Series "B" Sauvignon Blanc: light body, delicate, tart lime flavors; $25.

2010 Brancott Estate "Icon" Sauvignon Blanc: on the Sancerre model, with feline aromas, high acids and a hint of oak; $20.

2010 Brancott Estate Marlborough Pinot Noir: simple but spicy and intensely fruity with red raspberry aromas and flavors; $25.

2009 Stoneleigh Marlborough Pinot Noir: rich, soft and ripe, with tart cherry and cranberry aromas and flavors; $20.

Fred Tasker has retired from The Miami Herald but is still writing about wine. He can be reached at