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 Sauvignon Blancs 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. Sharing some aromatic similarities to the great red wine grape varietal, Cabernet Sauvignon, DNA fingerprinting in 1997 established that alongside Cabernet Franc, this humble grape native to Bordeaux was a parent of the aforementioned red grape.

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, Chile in the Casablanca Valley, 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 can be 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. Bordeaux, while not regularly associated with Sauvignon Blanc by consumers, 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 somewhat in the 1980s, the Bordelais have 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 the premier Sancerres and Pouilly- Fumés served as the model for their New World counterparts. Increasingly when planted in cool regions Sauvignon Blanc will develop classic green, herbaceous flavours. In warmer regions it can fail to develop much aromatic character and just have hints of peach. Generally the wines have high acidity and are normally rather dry.

When to drink Sauvignon Blanc

As Sauvignon Blanc is of the aromatic variety, it 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 as a blend and oaked slightly. There are inevitably some niche produces and the late Didier Dagueneau, who received a cult following for his Sauvignon Blanc wines from the Pouilly Fumé appellation, and many of his wines were purposefully cultivated for cellaring and they subsequently had a patent oak influence. The very best will improve over a period of 15-years but really this varietal is made to drink rather than retain.
 
Three staff favourites

Vavasour Sauvignon Blanc, Awatere Valley

A real staff favourite and an award winning one no less, this lovely wine from New Zealand’s South Island was described as the best Sauvignon Blanc over £10 in 2011. The Vavasour Sauvignon Blanc is a prime example of just why New Zealand has adopted this innocuous grape varietal as their own; its beautifully elegant, with a hint of lime and tropical fruit flavours and a touch of minerality, displaying all the hallmarks of this region’s burgeoning winemaking prowess. Vavasour's vineyards occupy a prized piece of land in this Marlborough sub-region, with relatively poor soils marrying well with arid conditions to provide the optimum conditions for this well-travelled varietal to thrive. The 2010 vintage was loftily described as “the perfect wine” by Decanter and this vintage is simply an impeccable example of a New World Sauvignon Blanc.

Luis Felipe Edwards Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc

The 2011 vintage was a Gold Medal winner at the Decanter World Wine Awards and this Chilean wine from the Leyda Valley, a small sub-region of the San Antonio Valley that is close to the ocean with cool temperatures that provide perfect Sauvignon Blanc conditions, boasts a fresh and full flavour with an edgy acidity and some mineral notes. It is rich with lush flavours of lime, grapefruit, gooseberry and a lovely long and attractive finish that makes it a perfect match with seafood.

Joseph Mellot Les Collinettes, Sancerre

Regularly championed by Decanter, this classically French Sauvignon Blanc is stylish and crisp with the familiar yet racy gooseberry character and a deliciously minerally finish. Fermented at a low temperature and aged on its 'lees' up until bottling to keep it fresh, Joseph Mellot is one of the Loire’s most revered winemakers with the 2009 vintage winning worldwide acclaim, and Les Collinettes is worthy testament to his skill.
 
For a special occasion...
 
Chimney Rock Elevage Blanc 
 
Terry Kirby of The Independent on Sunday wrote that this "stunning" wine, designed to taste like a fine Bordeaux, is "...creamy, complex, rich, balanced with fine acidity and with a long finish." A unique blend of Sauvignon Blanc and the rarely used Sauvignon Gris, this beautifully elegant wine exhibiting subtle aromas of honeysuckle and pear with additional floral notes, this is a full, creamy-textured wine with balanced acidity and a luscious burst of fruit in the mid-palate. A lingering finish hints at its ageing potential.
 
CellarVie Wines’ best value Sauvignon Blanc
 
Domaine Trotignon Touraine Sauvignon
 
A zesty, dry crisp wine with a waft of gooseberry and as good as many Sancerres, the Touraine Sauvignon really is one of our favourite wines. Made close to the city of Touraine, this Sauvignon Blanc displays all the greenery you would expect on the nose with refreshing zesty gooseberry flavours. Vibrant and certainly perfect for the summer months, at just £8.99 a bottle, you are unlikely to find a better tasting French Sauvignon Blanc at such an affordable price.
 

 
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 food 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. 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, like those with a citrusy or fresh tomato sauce. The flavours in Thai cuisine, particularly chili and lime, are ideal with the acidity and freshness of Sauvignon Blanc, while we would also encourage you to use fresh herbs and spices wherever possible please they complement the natural herbal quality of the wine.
 
A crisp Sauvignon Blanc from a cool climate region such as the Clare Valley in Australia would have its fruit flavours enhanced simply by serving it with grilled fish with a liberal amount of lime juice squeezed over it. Oaked fumé blanc style Sauvignon Blancs tend to work well with pasta dishes, chicken or pan-fried salmon.

Perfect Sauvignon Blanc Food match

Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc and Grilled Salmon Fillet

In the same way that a squeeze of lemon or lime gives a simple fish dish a lift, the lively acidity of Sauvignon Blanc will do the same. The Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc is a real taste of New Zealand and in particular Marlborough, a region noted for their exceptional Sauvignon Blancs. Vivaciously crisp, it showcases grapefruit, guava, lemongrass and tropical fruit flavours that linger through the refreshingly zesty finish. A delicious wine that will certainly breath new zest into the grilled salmon fillet and its natural juices. Drostdy-Hof pay careful attention to cellaring prior to bottling to ensure retention of natural fruit and it exactly these flavours that will enhance the rich salmon meat.
 
Main image by Dominic Rivard
 
 

Written by: Ben Moss

Ben Moss 

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