Sauvignon Blanc Wine Guide





Sauvignon Blanc is responsible for some of the world’s most popular, distinctive and dry white wines such as Sancerre and Pouilly- Fumé in France, and a plethora of superb versions from the New World, particularly in New Zealand. Frequently blended with Semillon, the Sauvignon Blanc grape will add a zesty, vibrant and often acidic verve to great dry and sweet white wines. DNA fingerprinting in 1997 established that, alongside Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc was a parent of Cabernet Sauvignon and there are some aromatic similarities.

Origins

Traditionally the home of Sauvignon Blanc is the Loire Valley and the Bordeaux region, where it appears to have been used for many centuries. The best unblended Sauvignon Blancs in France come from the Central Vineyards region of the Loire, famed for Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé, but since the 1980s New Zealand has unearthed its own very distinctive style of Sauvignon Blanc, as a result of their willingness to experiment with fermentation and maturation in oak. Additionally, New World countries led the way by freely picking grapes at different levels of ripeness, to add a delicate nuance to the aroma and weight to the palate.

Where is Sauvignon Blanc grown?

The Sauvignon Blanc vine is often late budding yet early ripening hence its ability to thrive in the Loire Valley, but it also travels well in the warmer climates of New Zealand, the Casablanca Valley in Chile, California and South Africa, when not exposed to overwhelming heat. Many now deem Marlborough, New Zealand, as the new home of this varietal where the greatest Sauvignon Blanc wines are found. In the north east of Italy, in Friuli, Sauvignon Blanc wines tend to exhibit fine fruit and purity of flavour although this green-skinned grape has not transferred as well in central Italy. Sauvignon Blanc effectively introduced New Zealand wines to the wider world because they have successfully developed their own unique style that is increasingly imitated to great effect in the cooler areas of Chile and North America. South Africa, like New Zealand, is also recognised for producing superb Sauvignon Blancs and they are increasingly fashionable with UK consumers. While not regularly associated with Sauvignon Blanc by consumers, Bordeaux was once a traditional home for this variety where, along with Semillon, it was the staple ingredient for many of the finest dry white wines and indeed Sauternes. Although it went out of fashion in the 1980s, the Bordelais have recently readopted the varietal to create an inevitably New Zealand influenced version that is well-balanced and food-friendly.

Wine Styles of Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc’s most recognisable characteristic is its piercing aroma that conjures descriptions of grassy, musky, herbaceous, and green fruit led components. Meticulously cultivated Sauvignon Blancs, most pertinently from the Loire Valley, are amongst the purest and most refreshing wines in the world, and premier Sancerre and Pouilly- Fumé served as the model for their New World counterparts. When planted in cool regions Sauvignon Blanc will increasingly develop classic green, herbaceous flavours. In warmer regions it can sometimes fail to develop much aromatic character but generally Sauvignon Blanc wines have high acidity and are normally dry.

When to drink Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc is generally at its best when young and unoaked and therefore very few Sauvignon Blanc wines age well, with those that do tending to have a touch of Semillon added and slightly oaked. There are inevitably some niche produces and the late Didier Dagueneau, who received a cult following for his exceptional Sauvignon Blanc from the Pouilly Fumé appellation, produced many wines that were purposefully cultivated for cellaring and they subsequently had a patent oak influence. The very best can improve over a period of 15-years but in the main this varietal is made to drink rather than retain.
 
 
Did you know?
 
• Oak ageing of Sauvignon Blanc, like most grape varietals, can have a distinct effect on the subsequent wine. Some winemakers add oak to Sauvignon Blanc in an effort to soften the naturally high acidity of the grape while others, particularly those in New Zealand and Sancerre, prefer stainless steel fermentation tanks over wooden barrels in order to retain the sharp focus and flavour intensity.
 
• Don't get mixed up with Pouilly-Fumé and Pouilly-Fuissé - the latter is from the Mâconnais sub-region of Burgundy and despite being made from Chardonnay it is often confused with the similarly named Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) Sancerre.
 
• Along with Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc was one of the first wines with a screw cap to be sold for commercial consumption.

What to eat with Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc wines, with their positive acidity, zestiness, dry palate and refreshing fruit character, perfectly complement light seafood salads, fish soups and grilled or smoked fish. They are a great partner for dishes flavoured with dill, tarragon or chives while Sauvignon Blanc’s high acidity mean they taste fresh and lively when matched with similarly acidic foods. The flavours in Thai cuisine, particularly lime, are ideal with the acidity and freshness of Sauvignon Blanc, while fresh herbs and spices have a good synergy with the natural herbal quality of this varietal.

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc’s ‘zing’ is a delightful complement to the fresh flavours of seafood, shellfish and white fish and these bountiful flavours can be enhanced with citrus or garlic based sauces. Crunchy summer salads with vinegar based dressings work well and many New Zealand Sauvignons can function as mouth-watering aperitifs. A crisp Sauvignon Blanc from a cool climate region like the Adelaide Hills in Australia would have its fruit flavours enhanced simply by serving it with grilled fish and a liberal amount of lime juice. Oaked fumé blanc style Sauvignons can work well with pasta dishes, chicken or pan-fried salmon.

The Renaissance of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

New Zealand’s flagship white grape, particularly from the iconic region of Marlborough, continues to polarise opinion. Some still revel in the vibrant, fresh, heady aromas of passion fruit, gooseberry and the archetypal spectrum of fruit salad flavours, while others have grown weary of the oversupply and the occasional drop in quality.
Yealands Estate Wines Ltd 
 
In recent years, however, there has been a significant movement to revitalise the reputation of Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand, with winemakers unearthing new ways to breathe life into this well-heeled varietal. Wild yeast, barrels and extended lees ageing has become more common alongside single vineyard expressions or even lower alcohol incarnations, suggesting there is very much a second generation movement to rejuvenate the jewel in New Zealand’s crown.

Terroir driven expressions and diversification has resulted in a host of wines that consumers can embrace. Sauvignon Blanc remains the UK’s most popular white grape variety and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc holds roughly half of this, suggesting this shift in approach has been well received.

Like the vast majority of the world’s best wine producing countries, New Zealand winemakers have endeavoured to gain a better understanding of what makes their vineyards and soils unique, and in turn have flipped the common misconception that Sauvignon Blanc, and Marlborough specifically, is all one style. Winemakers in this enduringly iconic region are subsequently producing more diverse and quality wines.
  
Pushing the terroir and regional narrative where it is credible has been at the forefront of the evolution and there are now more premium offerings available. Producing more nuanced expressions on a commercial scale, a contradiction in terms in many ways, is now the challenge that New Zealand winemakers, like their global counterparts, all face in an increasingly competitive market.

Variance of soil type and climate conditions where variable vineyard temperature results in more nuanced wines has yielded more premium offerings of contrasting styles. This aspirational and proactive shift is endeavouring to marry commercial viability with wines of exceptional character.

A Few Facts
 
• 83% New Zealand Wine exported in 2013 was Sauvignon Blanc.
 
• Sauvignon Blanc is New Zealand’s most widely planted varietal. The first wine made in commercial quantities was produced in 1979.
 
• Marlborough accounts for over 80% of New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc production.
 
 

 
Article first appeared in Under the Skin Magazine, Summer Edition 2014. CellarVie Wines' quarterly print publication accompanies all orders on www.cellarviewines.com 
 

   
 

Written by: Ben Moss

Ben Moss 

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