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Sauvignon Blanc

bunch of ripe sauvignon blanc grapesSauvignon Blanc makes quite possibly the most distinctive and easily recognisable white wine even for relatively inexperienced wine drinkers. It displays very clear characteristics in the glass; with a clean freshness and striking acidity coupled with a distinct green fruit flavour profile and a herbal nose suggestive of gooseberries, nettles, and elderflowers it doesn't take a life-time of wine tasting to become familiar with the variety. In cooler climates, and when the grapes are harvested below optimum ripeness, the flavours and aromas tend to be more grassy and reminiscent of (green) bell peppers. Sauvignon Blanc is the second most widely planted white wine grape in the world and the eighth most common overall. A mainstay of both dry and sweet white wines in the Bordeaux region of France it is also perfectly at home in the Loire valley where it is used to produce not only the famous wines of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé but also the rather less expensive and possibly less well-known wines of Quincy, Reuilly, Menetou-Salon and the wines of the Touraine appellation further to the west and downstream of the Upper Loire. Generally speaking the dry wines made with Sauvignon Blanc do not require years of bottle ageing to unfold and, although many of the best wines will still be drinking perfectly well after 5 years, most are best enjoyed with a mere year or two in bottle. The exception to this rule is found in Bordeaux where Château Haut Brion Blanc is produced, a wine that can last for several decades and which commands stratospheric prices. Ch. Couhins-Lurton and Pavillon Blanc de Château Margaux also provide complex and long-lasting pure Sauvignon wines. Sauvignon makes wines that are extremely good to pair with all kinds of seafood, especially oysters and shellfish, and it is also a perfect match with cheeses, especially goats' milk cheese.

Sauvignon Blanc is a vigorous grape variety that needs a good deal of canopy management and pruning to deliver the best results but it has the massive advantages of being a late budding variety, making it less prone to spring frost damage, as well as being an early ripening variety enabling it to be harvested safely before the weather turns inclement. Its popularity today is largely due to the explosion of New Zealand Sauvignons which took the wine world by storm in the late 1980s. The best of these are produced with fruit grown in the gravel soils of the Wairau Valley in the Marlborough region to the northern tip of New Zealand's South Island. Fermentation in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks preserved the bold, striking fruit flavours which include brasher (sub)-tropical fruits such as passion fruit, guava and kiwi along with the lemongrass, gooseberry and herbal flavours. It also has a long association with California having been grown there for more than a hundred and fifty years with some of the first clones reputedly having come from no less a property than Château d'Yquem itself. Once very much out of favour here its reputation was restored due to Robert Mondavi re-launching the variety as Fumé Blanc in the late 1960s and 1970s. Unusually for this variety Californian Sauvignon often spends a few months in oak to give a smoother, richer style. In South Africa it is capable of making very good wines from grapes grown in more temperate areas such as the Overberg coastal region and Chile also produces wines of a very good, reliable quality in the Casablanca Valley and Leyda - San Antonio. Australia is yielding good results in cooler areas such as the Adelaide Hills as well as Tasmania.

History of Sauvignon Blanc

There are conflicting claims regarding the history of the Sauvignon Blanc grape variety. One theory, supported by DNA evidence, has it that one parent is the Savagnin Blanc variety of the Jura region in eastern France. Another that the name derives from the French word "sauvage" meaning "wild" as it supposedly grew quite naturally in Bordeaux or the Loire Valley - both regions having claimed it as their own. A reference in the 16th. century during the reign of Henry IV to a grape named as "Surin" is thought to possibly refer to Sauvignon Blanc - if true this may appear to contradict the previous association with "sauvage". Whatever the truth of its derivation it is beyond dispute that it is a very important grape in both the Loire and Bordeaux whose white wines made its reputation and set the standard for others to attempt to emulate.

Sauvignon Blanc Wines

An important part of the Sauternes blend of grapes, Sauvignon Blanc helps to create some of the world's most exquisite sweet wine. Apart from adding a high degree of herbally-influenced freshness to the dry white wines of many classified chateaux in the Graves, Pessac-Leognan and the Médoc it is used extensively in the wines of the extensive Entre-Deux-Mers appellation too. In Pouilly-sur-Loire the flinty silex sub-soil lends a definite hint of gunsmoke to the bouquet of Pouilly-Fumé and it produces a slightly rounder, perhaps slightly fruitier wine across the river in Sancerre but this difference is dependent on the exact geology of the vineyard plot and its aspect. One thing is certain, however, and that is that these wines display a minerality missing from almost all New World examples. One French outlier is the appearance of Sauvignon Blanc in the vineyards of St. Bris in Burgundy which are located approximately halfway between Chablis and Sancerre. Good examples are both crisp and fruity and provide a well-priced alternative to wines from the Loire.

As mentioned above, it was New Zealand that was responsible for a worldwide renewal of interest in Sauvignon Blanc. The wines of Cloudy Bay won medals, critical acclaim and increasing consumer demand in the 1980s and succeeded in creating a whole new style of Sauvignon which became synonymous with gooseberries. It was this overt fruitiness which led to an explosion of demand for New Zealand wines and put it very firmly on the map and today sees many producers of this style of Sauvignon, many of the best from the vineyards of the Wairau River valley in Marlborough.


Jancis Robinson on Sauvignon Blanc

  1. Les Affaubertis Eric Louis, Pouilly-Fumé, 2011

    Les Affaubertis Eric Louis, Pouilly-Fumé, 2011

    With Sancerre just around the corner, this Pouilly-Fumé shares many of the same qualities. Crisp and refreshing with a stony minerality on the tongue and a crisp acidity to finish. Flinty lemon and apple come to mind when drinking this on a summer's day.

    Cardinal's Rating 88
    Colour White Wine
    Grape Variety Sauvignon Blanc
    Country France

    Out of stock

  2. Les Affaubertis Eric Louis, Pouilly-Fumé, 2013

    Les Affaubertis Eric Louis, Pouilly-Fumé, 2013

    Eric Louis' Les Affaubertis, 2013, is characterised by a lemon and apple nose and stereotypical flinty notes of gunsmoke.

    Cardinal's Rating 88
    Colour White Wine
    Grape Variety Sauvignon Blanc
    Country France

    Out of stock

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