Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc (soh-vee-NYAWN blahnk) is an aromatic white grape variety that originates from the Bordeaux region of France, but it is the New Zealand style from Marlborough’s Cloudy Bay that created a furor back in 1985 that still turns many consumers’ heads.  

Here’s a bit of wine geek information to start with: DNA profiling has established that Cabernet Sauvignon is the child of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc.

While the original home of Sauvignon is Bordeaux, it is the Upper Loire Valley vineyards that have the best growing conditions for the varietal - soils that consist of chalk, gravel, loam or flint that are located in a cool but sunny climate.  

The appellations of Pouilly-Fumé (pwee fume-ay) and Sancerre (sawn-SAYR) produce some of the most elegant Sauvignon Blancs in the world.  Remember in my first article, I explained that in Europe, wines are labelled by region, so look for a Sancerre or a Pouilly-Fumé in the French section, not necessarily a Sauvignon Blanc.

These wines are commonly blended with Sémillon (say-mee-YOHN) providing structure and body, are typically elegant, grassy or herbaceous, have a gooseberry aroma, and contain a subtle minerality or flint.

New Zealand experienced so much success with Sauvignon Blanc since the first plantings in the ‘70s, that the country has dedicated more vineyards to this grape than Bordeaux or the Loire Valley.  According to an article from the Journal of the Geological Association of Canada from 2009, New Zealand had eleven viticulture regions and more than 22,000 ha of vineyards - Sauvignon Blanc accounted for approximately 40% of land under vine.

The New Zealand style of Sauvignon Blanc is more intense and fruity than the French style, with aromas of gooseberries, passionfruit, asparagus, or sometimes ... cat’s pee! (Sounds disgusting, but it’s popular!)

From the 1970’s on, Sauvignon Blanc has been successful in California, due to Robert Mondavi’s renaming the varietal ‘Fumé Blanc’, giving it a glamourous makeover.  Don’t expect to find ‘Fumé Blanc’ in France, though!  

Napa or Sonoma Sauvignon Blancs may add a little oak to their wines, making it rounder and richer, but not in a California Chardonnay style.  Russian River Sauvignons are more subtle, like a Bordeaux style.

Our very own BC produces many wonderful Sauvignon Blancs that are typically grassy with grapefruit and gooseberry characteristics that are fresh and crisp, some blended with Sémillon, and some barrel fermented to add complexity.  

The Sauvignon vine grows vigorously and can prove troublesome for growers if the vines get out of hand.  This can cause the grapes to not reach full maturity, creating an herby, rank wine.  This can be prevented by proper canopy management and a low-vigour rootstalk.

Sauvignon Blanc is also susceptible to powdery mildew and gray rot, with the gray rot helping to make some of the world’s most sought-after dessert wines.  But, we’ll save that for another time.

Stainless steel fermentation and early bottling is the main way Sauvignon Blanc wines are made.  This allows the natural character of the grape to shine through.

Sauvignon Blanc is pale yellow in colour, and in cool climate wines will have a slighlty greenish tinge.  If this varietal is aged in wood or comes from a warm climate, the colour will be deeper.

Naturally high in acid, Sauvignon Blanc is light to medium bodied and crisp.  Enjoy these dry wines well-chilled (refrigerate for 40-50 minutes), and while they are young - within two years, although some Bordeaux wines have ageing potential.

Try Sauvignon Blanc with goat cheese, chicken, fish, salads, oysters, seafood, and vegetarian cuisine.


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