One of the Wine World’s Icons
Distinctly aromatic white wine variety making some of the most iconic wines in the world, including Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and Fumé Blanc. It is France’s third most planted white grape variety, behind Chardonnay and Ugni Blanc (a white grape used in many brandies as well as wines).
In 1970s and 1980s the eponymous Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand’s Marlborough region took the world by storm. Classic Marlborough “Savvy B” has intense and accessible flavours and currently accounts for over 85% of New Zealand’s wine exports.
Sauvignon Blanc is a very vigorous vine, which needs to be controlled in the more fertile soils of the Loire Valley and in New Zealand, where too much fruit can lead to under-ripe overly herbaceous flavours. It is in the effort to combat Sauvignon’s prolific yields that has led New Zealand grape growers to be some of the world leaders of canopy management techniques.
Tests have shown that Sauvignon Blanc is a parent (alongside Cabernet Franc) of Cabernet Sauvignon, with both displaying generous yields, vigorous canopies, and those green bell-pepper aromas.
Sauvignon Blancs across the world show grassy herbaceousness, musk-like floral aromas, green fruits, gooseberry and lemon citrus. Dependent on the minerality drawn from the limestone soils of certain vineyards, you can also smell gunflint and gooseberry.
More recent experiments with reductive winemaking, especially in New Zealand, can add an attractive struck match sulphur smell, adding to the complexity and fun in the glass.
Other than its intense flavours, Sauvignon Blanc’s main attribute is its high level of acidity. It’s an early ripening variety and therefore works well in cool climates with decent levels of sunshine. But the acidity tends to remain even in the warmer regions.
Often blended with Semillon for ageability. It buds after, and flowers before, Semillon, so is less susceptible to early frosts, but has more exposure to early season sunshine.
DRY – COOL CLIMATE STYLE
The green fruit, herbaceousness, and mineral character of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé have been copied across most of the main Sauvignon Blanc producing countries in the world. Most of them are unoaked and designed to drink young, although some wines from the Loire and Bordeaux are exceptions to that rule.
DRY – KIWI STYLE
New Zealand’s unparalleled sunshine hours brought a whole new slant on Sauvignon Blanc, with intense perfume, huge fruit concentration of stone and tropical fruits, fresh gooseberries, and a decent smudge of Sauvignon’s tell-tale asparagus.
Sauvignon Blanc usually adds less than 25% to the blends of Sauternes, but this provides the vital acidity, making the wines extremely drinkable despite the unctuous levels of silky glycerol.
The high acidity and fresh fruit and herbal aromatics of Sauvignon Blanc make it great with fish, seafood, soft cheeses, and grilled vegetables.
Try a glass of Sauvignon Blanc next time you sit down to some Eggs Benedict or Eggs Royale.
The Loire Valley is full of ‘Sauvignon’ character. Maximum yields are lower than the rest of France at just 55hl/ha forcing grape growers to combat Sauvignon’s vigorousness.
Sauvignon Blanc has recently taken over from Semillon as the most planted white in Bordeaux. It is the basis for the majority of Bordeaux Blanc blends alongside Sémillon and sometimes Muscadelle.
In the region of Entre Deux Mers. Bordeaux Blanc can vary considerably in its quality, and price. Some very high-class oak aged Sauvignon Blancs are available from producers across Graves, Pessac Leognan, and the Médoc. Sauvignon Blanc is also one of the primary grapes in blends for the famous sweet wines of Sauternes.
Bordeaux’s influence has spread Sauvignon Blanc into the rest of the South West, especially in Bergerac and Cotes de Duras. It also makes Vin de Pays in Languedoc Roussillon, although the heat tends to ruin most of the herby character.
It’s mutation, Sauvignon Gris, is also becoming very big in Loire and Bordeaux.
New Zealand’s modern wine industry is based upon the critical and financial success of its Sauvignon Blanc. Plantings are much higher than in the Loire or Bordeaux.
Kiwi Savvy B produced this taste that no one before or since can match. The high sunshine hours gleaming over the vineyards meant that the wines end up with intense perfume, huge fruit concentration of stone and tropical fruits, fresh gooseberries, and a decent smudge of Sauvignon’s tell-tale asparagus.
The great success was, as with so much when you have too much of a good thing, tempered with harsh critics. The high acid style was vilified as a one trick pony. Their Australian cousins were particularly savage, labelling it “Bitch Diesel”.
Modern Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc, however, is becoming so much more. Producers are altering fermentation lengths and temperatures, using oak fermentation and maturation, and varying the picking dates of harvests to add complexity.
The great Robert Mondavi took the US market by storm by using Sauvignon Blanc to produce Fumé Blanc, a quality focused Sauvignon Blanc that is arguably still the USA’s best expression of what the grape can do.
Sauvignon Blanc is a famous international variety and is therefore grown in many upcoming wine regions in the USA, such as Washington State and Texas.
ELSEWHERE IN EUROPE
Italy has some significant plantings in the cooler sites of the North East. Friuli, Collio, and Alto Adige are areas of promising success.
Sauvignon Blanc’s success in Spain blossomed under the Torres brand, grown in Rueda. Many other areas of Spain, however, can be too hot, producing overly oily wines.
Austria’s Styria district, the Slovenian districts of Maribor and Vipava, and the Serbian region of Fruška-Gora are areas of importance for Sauvignon Blanc.
Some plantings are also dotted around Germany, Czech Republic, Romania (high volume, low price export), and Moldova.
ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD
Early plantings in Australia were hampered by poor site selection. Much more focus on site matching is helping massively with the quality of Australian Sauvignon Blanc, however it’s still out planted by Chardonnay by 8:1.
Margaret Rive, in the west of the country, is attempting to develop a new look at the classic Bordeaux Blend.
Chile grows vast hectares of Sauvignon Blanc. Initially grape growers were unable to distinguish Sauvignon Blanc from Sauvignonasse, and often struggled to contain the yields. But better canopy management is turning the tables in Maule and Casablanca.
South Africa has produced Sauvignon Blanc for bulk for many years, but it’s the cooler climate sites of Elgin, Darling, and Cape Agulhas that are producing wines tight, green pepper inspired, ageable wines.