We’ve all had that experience where someone serves us two glasses of wine made from the same grape variety that taste completely differently. That’s thanks to the concept of terroir, the all-encompassing term for what makes a wine-producing region unique, based on soil, climate patterns, and geographical features. Terroir is the reason why a glass of Pinot Noir from Burgundy tastes entirely differently than one coming from South Africa.
Certain grapes are known for being extremely terroir-driven, meaning they really reflect the areas from which they come. One of these varieties is Sauvignon Blanc, one of the world’s most widely planted white wine grapes. Born in Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc has made its way all over the world, making quite a name for itself in France, New Zealand, and California.
So what exactly are the differences between this same grape variety from these three regions?
First and foremost, the biggest difference here is the Old World and New World factor. Old World wines, which come from Europe, tend to be more rustic in style, more terroir-driven, and lower in alcohol. New World wines, which come from everywhere else, tend to be fuller-bodied and more fruit-driven. They use more new oak, and have a higher alcohol content.
Of the most famous Sauvignon Blanc regions, France is considered Old World, while New Zealand and California are considered New World. That means that Sauvignon Blanc from France tends to be earthier and more terroir-driven than its New World counterparts. In Bordeaux, the grape is blended with Sémillon to create some of the world’s greatest dessert wines (hello, Sauternes) and crisp, refreshing mineral-driven whites. In the Loire Valley, Sauvignon Blanc reigns king in Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, arguably two of the greatest regions for SB production. Within these two appellations, chalky, gravel soils impart flavors of gunpowder and flint, with strong, smoky minerality. The wines are generally low in alcohol and very well balanced.
Sauvignon Blanc from the New World tends to be less flinty and earthy, with stronger emphasis on fruit. In California, Sauvignon Blanc-based wines tend to take on flavors of citrus and tropical fruit. In 1968, Robert Mondavi began crafting Sauvignon Blanc-based wines, calling them Fumé Blanc. Through these wines, Mondavi sought to replicate the flavor profiles of celebrated French Pouilly-Fumé, doing so by lowering fruit-forwardness of the wines through barrel aging. Currently, California Sauvignon Blanc can be found in both styles: the fruit-forward, more classically New World version, as well as Mondavi’s “Fumé Blanc” style.
The Sauvignon Blanc American consumers drink most tends to be from the southerly islands of New Zealand. These expressions of Sauvignon Blanc tend to produce more herbaceous and fruit-forward wines, with lush, tropical fruit flavors dominating the palate. Sandy soils impart good drainage and lower fertility, causing grapes to grow in lower, more concentrated yields. The wines are generally fuller-bodied and more fruit-forward, yet retain a striking acidity that keeps them fresh.
Whether from France, California, or New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc will always remain a staple on wine lists and retail shelves all over the world. If you’re curious to see the difference in these three types of Sauv Blanc, you can hold a Sauvignon Blanc blind tasting with your friends. Assign each person a specific appellation, wrap the bottles up in foil, and get to figuring out which style suits your palate best. Pro tip: Have some goat cheese to snack on for the end of tasting discussion — Sauvignon Blanc is goat cheese’s perfect pairing!