What is Sauvignon Blanc? A guide to the basics
For many consumers, Sauvignon Blanc is synonymous with New Zealand, and vice versa. Makes sense, given the sheer number of excellent North Island and South Island options. But the grape also has a beloved home in France, where stunning examples are grown in the Loire Valley and Bordeaux. California has countless top Sauvignon Blancs, as do Chile and Argentina. Depending on where it’s grown and who produces it, Sauvignon Blanc can be fruity and mouth-watering with citrus aromas and flavors, or more savory with distinct vegetal notes that lean towards freshly cut grass or peppers. . Sometimes it’s all of the above!
Ultimately, Sauvignon Blanc is produced in a wide range of expressions at a wide range of prices, making it one of the most popular white grape varieties in the world.
What is Sauvignon Blanc?
Sauvignon Blanc is a white wine produced from the grape variety of the same name. In North and South America, New Zealand and Australia, it is named after this grape variety and bottles tend to be labeled Sauvignon Blanc. In France, however, this is generally not the case; Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre wines, for example, are produced from Sauvignon Blanc by law, but they are labeled with the name of the appellation as opposed to the grape variety. Meanwhile, white Bordeaux (or Bordeaux Blanc) is usually a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon, with a little Muscadelle as a common addition, though these grapes are not usually found on the front label. Either way, white wines produced from Sauvignon Blanc are enjoyed the world over, regardless of their name.
Where does Sauvignon Blanc wine come from?
Sauvignon Blanc is most famously produced in Marlborough, New Zealand and France, where (in the former case) its telltale currant and grapefruit notes shine the brightest. It is also doing well in Australia, especially in Margaret River in the far west of the country, in addition to the Adelaide Hills.
In California, Sauvignon Blanc shines in Napa Valley and Sonoma County (Cattleya’s 2020 Alma is savory and subtly floral, and Acumen Mountainside Sauvignon Blanc is crisp and very layered, with a long, balanced finish) as well than the Sierra foothills (the 2018 Andis Codevilla Vineyard Old Vines Sauvignon Blanc takes advantage of oak to help create a deep, rich wine). Even producers best known for their Cabs have crafted remarkable Sauvignon Blancs; Ink Grade and Peter Michael are phenomenal examples, as is Quintessa’s “Illumination” Sauvignon Blanc, which brings together fruit from Napa and Sonoma to result in a wine of exceptional complexity and appeal.
It is increasingly common to find delicious Italian white wines that incorporate the variety. Ornellaia Bianco is all Sauvignon Blanc, and their Poggio alle Gazze blends it with Vermentino and Viognier. Le Macchiole’s Paleo Bianco, although dominated by Chardonnay, relies on around 30% Sauvignon Blanc to make a fantastic wine. He also sings in the northernmost regions of Italy. In Alto Adige, for example, Cantina Terlan produces a wonderful Sauvignon Blanc.
Arguably France is where Sauvignon Blanc is best known in Europe, where many of the classic Loire Valley white wines are Sauvignon Blanc – Pouilly Fumé and Sancerre are rightly considered as references. Bordeaux is also home to many greats; look for whites labeled as Entre-Deux-Mers, but don’t miss the often small-production white wines from the region’s legendary chateaux. Haut-Brion Blanc, for example, tends to contain slightly more Sémillon than Sauvignon Blanc, but the latter still makes up nearly half of the blend. It’s a highlight, vintage after vintage.
Why should you drink Sauvignon Blanc wine?
Sauvignon Blanc can be produced in a wide range of styles, from fruity, ripe and sometimes even tropical, to more vegetal and linear. In this way, it has the ability to appeal to a wide range of wine lovers. In parts of California in particular, there are even producers who make Sauvignon Blanc that has been influenced by oak, giving it an unexpected feeling of richness and sweet spice. It also goes very well with other white grape varieties, in particular Sémillon and Muscadelle, but also Chardonnay.
In terms of Sauvignon Blanc prices, it’s possible to find cheerful, cost-effective bottles for under $15, as well as age-worthy bottles that climb into the triple digits. The good news is that producers around the world are constantly experimenting with the styles of Sauvignon Blanc they produce, and there are bound to be some great options on store shelves and restaurant wine lists to explore.
Speaking of restaurants, Sauvignon Blanc is a very versatile white wine at the table. Its lively acidity allows it to cut through butter and cream, and its revealing citrus notes help it brighten up a wide range of foods, from pasta to seafood to sautéed fish and veal dishes. like a classic piccata preparation. It’s also a great partner for cheese, especially goat cheese, whose own grassy notes find counterparts in many Sauvignon Blancs.
What does Sauvignon Blanc taste like?
Sauvignon Blanc typically features fruit on the citrus side of the spectrum, including grapefruit, although lemon, lime, and kumquat are not uncommon. Warmer climate examples can lean in a more tropical direction with their fruity notes. A grassy or peppery counterpoint is also likely, the result of a compound in the grape itself called pyrazine. This is the same compound that is responsible for the bell pepper and vegetal notes in cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
Sauvignon Blanc is considered a semi-aromatic grape variety, and its strong acidity adds to its refreshing sensation. This acidity can be reduced by aging in oak barrels and a process called batonnage – the stirring of the lees – which gives the wine a creamier texture. In general. Sauvignon Blanc is best enjoyed fairly chilled, although examples aged in oak barrels or brewed on lees may be best at a slightly cooler temperature (although still chilly).
Five Great Sauvignon Blanc Wines
There are countless great Sauvignon Blanc wines on the market today. These five producers, listed in alphabetical order, are a perfect way to start exploring all that Sauvignon Blanc has to offer.
Chateau Larrivet Haut-Brion
An en primeur sample of the 2021 white from Pessac-Léognan is absolutely delicious, with jasmine, honeycomb and yellow apples carried on a spine of tantalizing yet exceptionally balanced acidity, all thoughtfully sprinkled with fresh herbs. It’s excellent.
Arguably France’s most respected Sauvignon Blanc producer, Dagueneau wines have gained a cult following over the years. The Silex and Pur Sang bottlings are among the most respected in the world.
Gamble Family Vineyards and Vinoce Vineyards
The 2021 Estate Sauvignon Blanc from Yountville, Napa Valley is generous with lemon blossom and candied ginger that add spiciness, height and depth to the nectarine, white peach, apricot and notes lemon curd. Napa Valley’s 2020 Sauvignon Blanc Vinoce “Lori’s Lucky Penny” is energized and shows candied grapefruit zest, passion fruit, lemongrass and vibrant notes of hard apricot, kumquat, white tea, of lime leaf and mineral until the end.
One of New Zealand’s most familiar names in Sauvignon Blanc. Their 2021 Private Bin bottling rings in at under $15, and is a classic example of why the ‘NZ SB’ category has become so popular. Gooseberry, grass and sweet and mouth-watering tropical fruits (the passion fruit notes are effusive) make this a perfect bottle for late summer.
Viña Leyda and ritual
These two wines – the 2021 Leyda Coastal Vineyards – Garuma Sauvignon Blanc and the 2019 Ritual Casablanca Valley Sauvignon Blanc – exhibit very different ends of the Chilean Sauvignon Blanc spectrum, with the former relying more on the capsicum- and pepper-influenced end. jalapeño, and the latter more along the lines of grapefruit, lime and mineral. Tasting them side by side is an eye-opening way to understand the breadth of Sauvignon Blanc styles, not just in Chile but in general.