11 reasons to avoid Oyster Bay sauvignon blanc

Not sauvignon blanc grapes

Some say that the grapes are trodden by the feet of hobbits. Others that it is simply made with their pee.
What can’t be explained what magic has been invoked to make a New Zealand wine has become the most popular quaff of the Aussie – Oyster Bay sauvignon blanc from the Marlborough region.
Marlborough sauvignon blanc is becoming more popular by the day. In 2008 sales increased by 52.3% in 2008 and 143% in the last two months of 2008 when it accounted for 42% of the 65 million litres imported.
And half of all imports into Australia are from New Zealand
For years it has quite possibly more than an urban myth that there are more New Zealanders in Australia than in their homeland. I now wonder if in fact we could find ourselves in a similar situation with Kiwi wine.
A while ago at The Prince wine store in St Kilda the wine fridge was stuffed with sauv blanc and I was forced elsewhere for my last minute shopping.
What I see is the growth of a generic style of wine into a bubble that hopefully will burst – much as it did for that awful oaky labrador yellow chardonnay that was once in fashion.
Fortunately, we have a new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who already is showing signs of invoking Howard-style Aussie nationalism. To people who like this style of politician he has already proved himself to be a perceptive art critic who knows when artistic genius may just be a bit dodgy.
I believe, with my tongue firmly planted in my Riedel Vinum sauvignon blanc tasting glass, that perhaps it is time for the Prime Minister also to speak out as a wine critic.
It’s time for him to wrap the proverbial Aussie flag around his shoulders and tell the world why we shouldn’t be drinking Oyster Bay sauvignon blanc and save the troubled local wine industry.

Here, as an unashamed wine snob, are my suggestions. And I would welcome yours in comments.

1. It’s fruity flavour tastes like Starburst (weren’t they better as plain old Opal Fruits) with a bite of lemon acid afterwards.

3. Oyster Bay is a caricature  of a sauvignon blanc with its bold tropical fruity flavour and acid.

4. It way well be grown in Marlborough but really reflects the terroir of stainless steel.

5. It’s not really a wine but a stepping stone from alcopops and sweet cocktails to wine. Try something like a pinot gris instead or if you have a sweet tooth a local slightly fizzy Moscato (the Brown Brothers is great value at $15).

6. It is difficult to find any food that this wine does not overshadow (apart from a Big Mac).

7. If you do order it in a restaurant you will be ripped off because the owner knows it will be a popular choice and therefore will fatten their margins by charging extra for it. (Best to avoid any restaurant with Oyster Bay sauv blanc on the menu to be honest).

8. If I were to match it with anything it would be the TV show Desperate Housewives (which, of course, I have never watched) or Ladette to Lady.

9. Okay it’s been reviewed by the big name critics who use their words carefully. Technically the wine may have no obvious imperfections but it’s still a big tropical fruit acid bomb.

10. You can buy it for under $17 but there are so many Australian alternatives available for much less – less than $10 in Dan Murphy’s (try any Yalumba, the sauvignon blanc if you have to)

11. Alternatively, dare I say, try a Sancerre. Now that’s what I would call a sauvignon blanc if it wasn’t unAustralian.

Coming soon: my frugal quality Australian wine dozen.


  1. Seriously??! Get over yourself! It’s a family owned company (how freakin rare is that these days) and they produce great quality wines every day. It never runs out, and I know it’s always a safe bet. It’s sad that people are so critical of success from a company that is the leader in modern technology winemaking. Yeah, it’s not Billiecart, but it doesn’t cost Billiecart either. When I want a wine I can drink at a good price I know which one I consistently trust. The sparkling is phenomenal and I love the French appeal – far outdoes Chandon Janz and Grant Burge. Just because something is successful doesn’t make it threatening – get over it and enjoy the wine for what it is.

  2. OB is still the market leader today, across all wine, not just SB. This tells us that people who take wine seriously are few in number and recognise that life’s too short to drink bad wine. The rest (the majority) will simply drink what they know and what they like.

  3. Tut,tut…New Zealand sauv blanc,The great “FEAR” for Australain wine. Fear fear and more fear mongering!!!

  4. McGuigans Verdhello is my current wine of choice and very cheap too! I’m normally a Marlborough sav blanc girl but this ones very drinkable 🙂

  5. I like wine.
    it rhymes with Dine.
    Golden Gate variants are good and cheap. $6 a bottle. Oyster Bay SB its kinda yuck. i’d prefer to drink sweeter wines though. im also only 16 years old and dont think my palate has matured yet.

    i tried a bordeux red wine and it was sour as hell. Cany ou reccomend wines which are full of flavour and not sour metho? Or do i have it all wrong and wine is in general sour metho?

    • Jason,
      Most wines maybe do taste like sour metho compared to NZ sauv blanc. Depending on your budget google “orange wine”. It’s a bit more pricy but tastes of grapes and isn’t too acid.

  6. $24 in what country? $12.99 in the bottle shop near me. Money stays in private hands…

  7. Oyster Bay is terrible.. and over priced. Why would anyone who owns a restaurant or bar put it in? Customers know what it is sold at in liquor stores or bottle shops… their staff are arrogant and have no idea about wine… They are a bunch of wankers!

  8. And I messed up my web addie.

  9. Well, it sure as hell made for a tasty mussel chowder ingredient.

  10. Why do we keep buying NZ Wines?
    1) So many kiwis here
    2) The Australian Governement makes it cheaper for Australians to drink foreign Grogg. Dumb hey!

    About time we started supporting our own wine industry. After all they are so much better than kiwi wines anyway.
    So sick of sifting through the hundreds of NZ wines to find a small selection of our own.

  11. Hi Greg,

    Nice to hear you enjoy it but you could probably get a better wine that supports a smaller producer for the same price.

  12. Here I sit (in Canada eh) half aglow on by beloved OB SB, troubled as you can well imagine, by these blasphamous, scathing comments. I love Sauv.
    Blancs from the Marlbourough region, in particular Osyt. Bay – so much so, I’ve tried repeatedly in my homemade wine making ventures, to produce something as good. Beauty (or taste) is in the eyes of the beholder – the sales don’t lie – people like it. You may not care for it, but don’t try telling me why not to like your wine – faithfully supporting your New Zealand wine industry (as well as Jamiacan rum, Canadian beer and my homemade reds),

    Heavy D

  13. You’re all wine snobs and what happened to point number 2 ;). Just kidding. I guess I should broaden my palate. Thanks for the suggestions.

  14. For all you Marl SB baggers, for a great quaffer try the Looking Glass 2010. And for the uninitiated – the strong fruit fragrance is the beauty of NZ SB in my oh so very humble and uneducated opinion. At the risk of having rotten fruit thrown at my head, I suggest you try a local SB spritzer in one of the wine bar/restaurants overlooking Lake Taupo on a gloriously sunny early spring day 🙂

  15. Where do you get 90% on wine dollars into marketing from? I heard they spent 23 million on a winemaking facility. Do you actually know what your talking about or do you just make stuff up?

    • Only $24! A bargain considering the volumes the churn out. I bet still most of the money goes into branding and marketing.

  16. *cough* wanker *cough*

    • Well, Darren, cough if you want 90% of your wine dollars to go into marketing rather than winemaking, cough, carry on.

  17. Pingback: ABMSB (Anything But Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc) « The Water Trough

  18. Cool Ali-K.

    I hope I have a chance to defame it again during the session.

  19. Hey Ed, loved coming across another cheeky shot at Marlborough Sav Blanc in the Emerging Writers’ Festival programme this morning!

  20. Ali-K, oh to have the Domaine A budget.

  21. Ed, it never ceases to amaze me how much chat this post generated.despite my declaration earlier, I’m developing a much better appreciation for SB after a recent visit to Tassie’s Domaine A – although that’s not a sustainable hobby. Domaine A tastes on an Oyster Bay budget.

  22. That’s great that you have it at such a reasonable price – many people push it up towards $50. Although I don’t know how people could make money from it at $25.

    I guess it’s an interesting dynamic but with interesting sauv blancs from the likes of De Bortoli and the other locally family owned brands would it not be possible to push customers towards something local?

    I’ve tried lots of SBs and was on the SB tasting panel at the Good Food and Wine Show last year.

    I must say I know I’ve getting fed up with places serving wine for $14 a glass and more and I want value. And I do understand the place of Oyster Bay style Sauv Blanc in the discovery of wine.

    Now I’m sounding like a right wanker.

  23. acually in the current climate placing to many un-recognisable wines on my list is bad for business, customers no matter which demographic they come from are looking for a quality brand they trust which is why I have oyster bay on the list, its good quality and well known, ( I charge $40 for a bottle $42 for the sparkling) I have a reputaion as a fine dining establishment so I can’t have my prices to low, I know of some restaurants that stock the sauv for as low as$25 per bottle. People recognise a quality wine, the Oyster bay fits in well with my other Australian products. Have you tried the other products by the company? Consumers are eating out less and need to trust the wines we have to offer to keep them coming back.

  24. Well, Anon far from it, I’m not a snob.I often drink wines that cost under $10 or cask wine and certainly mass brands.

    What I look for is value which means trying to find the best wine for the least price.

    Oyster Bay does not offer good value. There are so many sauv blanc’s that are cheaper than Oyster Bay which in most outlets costs about $20 (although in Dans I’ve seen it for $14).

    I just believe that if they want something like Oyster Bay they should buy a cheaper one for value and perhaps attempt to take wine drinkers on a little bit of a journey though not out of their comfort zone.

    In fact, I would go as far as to say the fact you put it on your menu is profiteering as you know lots of people will order it sand I bet you charge near $50 or more.

    Please do point this out to Oyster Bay although I’m sure they are savvy enough to have seen this post already.

  25. You are one of these wine snobs that forces your opinon on other people, why are you attacking only oyster bay? there are many other big NZ wine produces out there, do you have any clue on how its made? have you seen the winery? I have, they way they make there wine is as careful as any boutique winery out there, in fact I belive its more careful because of the reputaion of the brand. It wouldn’t be the biggest selling wine in Australia if it wasn’t any good. As for the quip it only goes with a big mac your taste is in your arse, try it with oysters. Have you tried the other wines by the company? I have worked in the restaurant industry for 17 years and proudly put Oyster Bay on the menu, I have recently added the Sparkling Rose, the reps are fantastic and the wine is the best selling on my menu, for you to say anyone who has oyster bay on their menu should be avoided you are proberly someone I wouldn’t want in my restaurant. Before you attack me back saying I work in a dodgy place, I work in a fine dining restaurant in Melb, no I won’t say which one? Your offensive and biased, I hope someone from oyster bay sees this, I will be pointing this site out to the rep when I see them next.

  26. Interesting reading – Oyster Bay Sav Blanc is a fantastic wine as reccomended by most leading wine critics – I believe you are simply jealous of its huge success and should be ashamed of yourself writing such rubbish

  27. Kelvin, I recently had a Chilian Sauv Blanc – it reminded me of a pinot gris in its blandness and I liked it for that.

    D-Man, this is only an attack on Oyster Bay really so Icertainly don’t put all sauv blanc’s in the same category.

    Anonymous, I actually don’t like shiraz that much at all. I’m just highlighting if you read it properly that Oyster Bay sauv blanc in over priced and that for $8 less you could get one that equals it – or may be better – from Dan Murphy’s. In fact, I would advocate at a time when the Australian wine industry is in crisis that buying from local smaller wineries rather than a huge NZ wine factory may help the industry.

    And yes, I have drunk plenty of alcopops and enjoy them as long as they are not lurid in colour.

  28. I find your commentry extremely offensive ande biased. I wonder why i get the impression that no less than a Shiraz is worthy of any wine ranking by your noble self – quite one dimentional really ! different strokes for different folks! and no I do not agree with you – have your ever actually TRIED an alcohol pop ? No – didn’t think so

  29. Forgive me, but I think the old Oyster Bay has been unfairly dealt with in this post. But before the flaming starts, let me explain…

    Do I think its an exciting SB? Nope.

    Is it my first choice in white wines? Certainly not.

    Would I bother trying to explain with any enthusiasm the sensation of imbibing it? Well…frankly the enthusiasm part might be hard to muster.

    However, Oyster Bay does serve to highlight a couple of interesting dynamics. Firstly, it sets a benchmark in terms of its mediocrity. Its not a horrible wine. I’ve tasted horrible wines, the sort that have you screwing up your nose or wishing you really had taken a swill of your own body fluids in preference for whoeveritmightbe’s latest vintage. This isn’t one of those wines. Its just…unremarkable.

    What it has seemed to do despite this though, is capture the palette of popularity with a vast majority of Australians. Now, this may or may not be a sad reflection on the state of our great nations appreciation for genuinely good wine, but I like to see it as creating something of an opportunity.

    It seems hard to argue against the proposition that Aussies are as a general populace at least dimly aware of the fact that New Zealand whites, particularly sav blancs, give anything west of the border a hefty run for its money. But I suspect (such suspicions being supported by the relative success of Oyster Bay itself) that many of us still lack any canny knowledge and experience of what constitutes a good SB. In other words, are we a country on wine training wheels?

    Now, before all you savvy vino connoisseur’s accuse me of over generalising, lets not forget we’re a nation bred on beer for the last couple of hundred years, and whilst there’s certainly a vast number among us with an appreciable knowledge of wine, a lot of people are still playing catch up.

    For whatever reason, white wine newby’s seem to like Oyster Bay and are prepared to try it. Its a safe, unassuming and unpretentious wine that can, if it achieves nothing else beyond bumper sales, serve to spark interest in the style.

    We had a dinner party a few months back, which serves as an excellent example. Our guests brought wine, and whilst we had a few gems from our more astute friends, there appeared the inevitable bottles of Oyster Bay and Stoneleigh.

    The bringer professed their like for Oyster Bay even though they ‘hadn’t been much of a white drinker’, and so I suggested we nurture their new found interest with a few alternatives. We introduced them first to a Saracen SBS which is a decent domestic effort, then moved to a Shaw & Smith, and finally on to a couple of personal favorites from the Loire Valley. Needless to say, when they returned to their original glass of Oyster Bay, they were surprised but excited about how much better the alternatives were.

    There now goeth a white lover, who is at least pointed in the right direction.

    A producer recently ran an add in Victoria to ‘get rid of inferior wine’. It was Fifth Leg from memory. I liked the idea because it served to highlight just how much garbage is swilling its way around the country. But perhaps the Oyster Bays of the world have their place in at least engendering some interest in those who aren’t wine drinkers or who might never step beyond the barely consumable whites if it wasn’t for the fact they actually realize that white can be good. We should really embrace anything that serves as a stepping stone between passion pop and fine wine, if for no other reason than the fact that a collective interest and inevitable self education in good wine might result in the collective standard increasing at home.

    Then maybe we’d all enjoy better wine in years to come.

  30. Oyster Bay is pretty bad lol, but to be fair that doesn’t summarise all New Zealand Sauvignons I guess… even though almost all of them are too new world like.

    For this style of new world Sauvignons – I’ve had good ones from Cape Crest, Cloudy Bay Te Koko (not the normal Cloudy Bay though, yuk), Mud House, as well as another one I can’t recall somehow.

    Having said that – Pouilly Fume is so much better, or else a Sancerre or Anjou, or a white Bordeaux Sauvignon.

    NZ SV smells funny in general and is all about forward fruit especially passionfruit, acid and pungent fruit smells.

    Funnily enough, I’ve tried a new Chilean Sauvignons lately and I was surprised that they were closer to French styles, and usually a bit greener in colour. Chilean reds on the other hand, are a disaster for the wine world! Weird.

  31. Hmm, I am often the outcast of Friday night drinks because I don’t actually like Sauv Blanc. Seriously, what kind of mid-late twenty something female am I?

    I too am hoping that the bubble bursts soon and, much as I’m currently doing with chardonnay, I can later rediscover the style with much less crap, like Oyster Bay, to sift through. In the meantime I’ll have to contend with any convenient bottle shops having 3 fridges full of the stuff and only 1 other with any selection. Sigh

    (Don’t get me started on trips to visit relatives in the country where I’m forced to buy wine from Woolworths liquor….)

  32. A good wine when inhaled and imbibed should invoke Sancerre like spirituality for the liquid! And thats my final take – let the good times begin for wine lovers. And be they pee-ed on pressed by feet – black or green – some grapes will remain sour!

  33. Though I fully agree with a lot of the points that have been made, especially point four. I think Oyster bay may not be the best example to use for Sauv Blanc as the amount of production and the scale of the operation may no longer be classified as a winery but a factory, where “piss” is pumped out by the tank load. unfortunately the everyday consumer would not know this and would buy it thinking it was what a Sauv blanc should be. Clos Henri Sauv Blanc would be the pick for me…

  34. Though I fully agree with a lot of the points that have been made, especially point four. I think Oyster bay may not be the best example to use for Sauv Blanc as the amount of production and the scale of the operation may no longer be classified as a winery but a factory, where “piss” is pumped out by the tank load. unfortunately the everyday consumer would not know this and would buy it thinking it was what a Sauv blanc should be. Clos Henri Sauv Blanc would by a pick for me…

  35. Well, I certainly don’t agree with point 7 from the point of view of the restaurateur, not that I am one. But any small business is duty-bound to optimise its chances of survival against the current background of increasing workplace constraints, ever-growing red tape and dwindling custom thanks to the supply of world money being switched off.

    Should they choose to do so by making an extra dollar on a bottle of Kiwi plonk, then good luck to them and they’d be mad if they didn’t.

    Having said that, your general thrust re. sauvignon plonk is exactly right in terms of a generic tropical fruit bomb being the crowd favourite.

    The lineage is interesting. Ben Ean was the early ’70s equivalent. Prior to that, Australia had not really emerged from its colonial grasp of port, sherry and novelty lines like Cold Duck, Porphyry Pearl and the like. (Glen Waverley was known in the 1960s as the Sherry Belt thanks to housewives, who had just missed out on the delights of the ‘liberated sixties’, dousing their angst with McWilliam’s Cream.) Ben Ean was followed by Carte d’Or riesling – another fruit bomb – until a new variety called Lexia popped up and the sound of hundreds of bogan customers – mainly women – ordering endless bottles of spatlese lexia became the soundtrack to many a wine waiter’s life in the early ’80s including mine. Then suddenly chardonnay was everywhere and finally, despite wine writers endlessly predicting the return of riesling, the dreaded cats’ urine has taken the day. We currently have a number of stray felines around the place chez Kitchen Hand and I must say that when I step outside the back door in the morning it smells like that cloying aroma you get when over-scented middle-aged women get together and drink themselves stupid on sauvignon blanc.

    Oyster Bay? What a title.

    What next?

  36. Surely one should drink beer when watching ‘Ladette to Lady’ if you are going to belch along on any sort of authentic manner?

  37. I totally agree that even an average Sancerre is vastly superior to Oyster Bay sauv blanc in almost every way, but that also includes the price and in these difficult economic times price (and availability) is the clincher. If anyone can recommend a Sancerre for $15-20 a bottle I’d love to hear about it.

  38. I thought this post would reveal a bit of dissent out there Ed, such was its divisive intents & I know your tongue was in firmly your cheek, but still, many a true word etc.
    I agree with the points you raise & it seems your readers do but for many many people out there, it is an accessible brand that they can relate to, a safe haven in a storm of vinous gobbledigook & marketing spin. It is part of the pentheon of brands that command loyalty from consumers much like Penfolds, Lindemans & Wolf Blass do, despite the arguably top quality or lack thereof in their portfolios.
    Have you had any feedback from the Oyster Bay people?

  39. Oh oh oh Ed – The Wall Street Journal had an article and vid about NZ wines and although Oyster Bay didn’t score any particular mention, images of its bottle aren’t in short supply in the vid. Had to laugh. Link.

  40. Ed,

    Whilst I have no particular affection for Oyster Bay, I can see its appeal. I guess one good thing might be it is unthreatening and predictable and perhaps from this an interest will be sparked. When I first got interested in wine, NZ SB ( Isabel Estate in particular) was one of my early loves. . .

  41. Greatly enjoyed this, Ed. Looking forward to your list. (And enjoyed your reference to wonderful old Opal Fruits!)

  42. Yeah, ned, you really need that. I mean…box wine. C’MON!

  43. I reckon Shaw & Smith in the Adelaide Hills make the best sav blanc either side of the ditch.

    Couldn’t agree with you more re Sancerre, not forgetting Pouilly-Fume either, outstanding wine and completely different to anything new world. Hopefully one day, like with chardonnay, we will move more towards the old world style.

  44. Glad everybody agrees with point 7 and the spirit of this. Nobody is taking issue with me though.

    ned, I’m planning to do probably sub $15 for next week.

  45. You probably don’t want to write one those posts but I’d love to get your top 5 sub-$20 wine picks.


  46. As I said to you earlier today, I haven’t drunken many whites. I think you should get everyone you know to write a history of their alcohol consumption habits so an essay can really be written about it.

    But who knows, right now, I am all about the beer and white spirits.

  47. This is such a great post, and it sums the sad state of ‘popular’ wine perfectly. I guess the Cardonnay (yes this was an intended misspelling for all you nitpickers out there) set needed to find a new niche, and what better than Passion Pop for adults, minus the fizz so you can scull to your hearts content. Maybe it was meant to be drunk in shot form, for then taste doesn’t matter! I am partial to a Sav Blanc, but Oyster Bay is never in my fridge. Love the Starvedog Lane Semillon Sav Blanc, but that might just be my hometown South Australian leanings.

  48. Oyster Bay is the new goon bag.

    I visited Silk Road when it first opened and they were charging $50 per bottle for it. Highway robbery!

    I still drink it from time to time. If I drop into a bottleshop on the way to something most only have on offer a few sav blancs and the aforementioned yellow chardonnay.

  49. Great post. I totally agree with point 7. I’m always disappointed to see it on a wine list at a restaurant. It just screams predictable and lazy… it’s like the crowd pleaser for people without taste buds.

  50. New Zealand is like all wine producing regions around the world and has a wonderfully rich mosaic of small producers who make unique and distinctive wines. They also have the very large global companies who make wines to serve a market need.

    As consumers, we have a choice to grab and go or take the time to know something about the foods and wines that we are bringing into our homes and sharing with friends.

    In these new times, I suspect more will connect with the people rather than the corporation.

    We have some pretty similar Aussie wines her in the USA too. It is not up to politicians rather consumers to lead the charge for unique and diverse wines.

    FYI wine you mentioned was in this AM paper for 8.99 USA.