Sauvignon Blanc is a grape that has found favour with wine drinkers the world over for its up-front fruit and refreshing character. From its homeland in France, through to almost iconic status in New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc has been a grape very much in vogue over the past decade.
The key characteristic of Sauvignon Blanc is its brash, gooseberry, nettle and lime character and its distinctive aroma of grass and gooseberry. It is often described as "cat's pee on a gooseberry bush" and with the more extreme examples you can see why.
It really is a love it or hate it wine and even for those that love it, the greatest risk to its popularity is that it can often be one dimensional. As wine lovers gain more experience, they may become bored with its lack of complexity.
In 1997, Sauvignon Blanc was identified, through DNA profiling, as the one of the "parents" of Cabernet Sauvignon (our other featured grape this quarter). It probably happened through a simple cross-fertilisation in a vineyard, possibly in Bordeaux. However, additional DNA profiling has found a relationship to Chenin Blanc and possibly Traminer (of Gewürztraminer fame).
Sauvignon Blanc is found across the world. In France, it is now the third most widely planted white variety and it is also found extensively in New Zealand, Spain, Chlie, California, Australia, South Africa and Italy.
Sauvignon Blanc is a vigorous vine and therefore careful management of the canopy is required to ensure that the grapes are given the right environment to ripen fully, especially in cool climates. Therefore, it is rarely found in fertile soils, preferring chalk (in the Loire) and gravel or sand.
Sauvignon Blanc also has susceptibility to powdery mildew and black rot, which led to its decline in France throughout the 1960s and 70s. However, with modern clones and the development of effective treatments for these diseases, the grape has become popular again, fuelled by insatiable consumer demand.
To maintain the true and sometimes extreme character of Sauvignon Blanc, low yields are necessary. Otherwise it can lose the refreshing fruit that makes it so exciting and take on an overtly vegetal aromas; once described as "...more cat's pee than Gooseberry bush!"
Sauvignon Blanc is made in two distinct methods; one as a single varietal retaining the vibrancy of the fruit, the other as a component in a blend, most often with Sémillon.
The first method produces the wines from Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Marlborough in New Zealand and South Africa, Australia and countless other areas. Invariably vinified at cool temperatures in stainless steel and bottled young, these wines show up front fruit.
The second method leads to a more structured wine destined for longer ageing. Sauvignon can often be a small component of the blend, with Sémillon taking up the bulk. The characteristic acidity of the Sauvignon Blanc balances the slight "fatness" of Sémillon. These wines are often fermented and aged in oak, sometimes new oak.
A similar method of vinifiaction is also used to make the great sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac, where Sauvignon Blanc is a key component to the blend, adding its characteristic acidity to the wine, even at very sweet levels.
The typical example of Sauvignon Blanc in many people's minds is now from Marlborough, New Zealand. Typical examples will show a real green gooseberry, grassy fruit with notes of tropical fruit and lime. Top of the tree in many people's minds is Cloudy Bay, but there are many other examples of the classic Marlborough style.
Similar wines are also made in Australia, South Africa, southern France, Hungary and Chile.
Probably less extreme but still in a similar style are Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé and the Sauvignons of Touraine, all in the Loire Valley in France. This wine is the original model that the new world has tried to emulate, and some would argue, surpass.
This style of wine should be drunk as young as possible to retain the freshness and vibrancy of the wine. However, one to two years from harvest can benefit some of the more extreme examples and soften their up-front nature. These wines are often found bottled under screw cap, especially from New Zealand.
Bordeaux is the home of the original Sauvignon/ Sémillon blend and vinifaction in wood. There are one or two examples emerging of 100% Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux but one might argue that the jury is out on how successful these will be commercially.
New Zealand is also trying to emulate this style along with California, Australia, Italy and South Africa. These wines offer an attractive stone fruit character with a spiciness retained from the wood. This type of wine will also have the potential to age significantly, for at least 5 years, when they take on interesting and distinctive flavours.
Finally, Sauvignon Blanc is a key contributor to sweet wines, adding characteristic and necessary acidity to the sweet wines. These wines can age for many, many years, taking on a deep golden colour and a richness of flavour which is complex and alluring after 5 to 10 years.
For a description of wine styles and examples of each style in the West Mount Wine catalogue, please look at our section on Sauvignon Blanc Wine Styles
Sauvignon Blanc has firmly established itself on the international stage with fine examples being found on four continents. From the iconic Cloudy Bay in New Zealand to the more traditional wines of Sancerre and Bordeaux, it has firmly found its place in wine lover's hearts. Judging by the way Cloudy Bay flies out of the door at West Mount Wine, this love affair shows no signs of abating in the near future.
For a great, sappy and refreshing wine, it's very hard to do better than a well made, thirst quenching Sauvignon Blanc.
If you would like to learn more about Sauvignon Blanc through one of our tasting workshops, please do contact us and we'd be pleased to help.