Sauvignon Blanc is the loudest wine in the room. Even in its most subtle form the wine has a lot to say, full of vigour, nervy zest and type A aromatics. The grape is said to have been discovered in 18th Century France, having similar herbaceous characteristics to Cabernet Sauvignon – 1997 DNA profiling confirmed that Cabernet Sauvignon is, in fact the result of a crossing between Sauv Blanc and Cabernet Franc. And like its Bordeaux brethren, Sauvignon Blanc now grown all over the world.
But there is a short list of areas around the world where the bulk of the Sauvignon Blanc we consume is made, and depending on where that place is, your Sauvignon Blanc can taste very different. Generally Sauvignon Blanc is crisp and clean, but its aromatic characteristics vary. Figure out what aromatics you prefer, and you may just discover your prefered place for procuring a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.
Let’s start where the grape was born — the Old World.
Bordeaux (Old World)
After a long lull in sales, Bordeaux Blanc is getting a second chance. And this is only fitting as it’s believed this is where Sauvignon Blanc was born. Often blended with the more structured Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc is very well known in the Grave appellation specifically its famous sub region Sauternes. But for our purposes and budget we need to focus on the Bordeaux appellation of Entre-Deux-Mers, meaning ‘Between Two Seas’, a large swath of land bewteen the two main rivers of Bordeaux, the Dordogne and the Garonne. Wine from here is often quite affordable, ranging from $9 a bottle up to $20, and is showing up more and more on shelves and on wine lists. Visually pale yellow gold in color and a whisper of green, these wines exhibit quiet citrus fruit such as grapefruit and some lemon along with slight hints of green apple and nectarine. Often there is also the well known fresh cut grass aroma. When blended with semillon these wines show some really fun honeysuckle and a little bit of beeswax. Not often but sometimes there is also a kiss of oak exposure that yields a soft vanilla tint.
Sancerre (Old World)
Although not thought to be born here, it is generally agreed upon that the white wines of Sancerre in the Loire Valley are the purest expression of the grape. These wines are not cheap. While you can find good examples in the $15 to $20, the best are in the $25 plus atmosphere. They are mostly pale straw in color with that hint of green. They have citrus notes of grapefruit and some green apple but then they start to differ. These wines are streamlined with steely grace and significant minerality in the form of wet stone (like plucking a stone from a creek and putting it to your nose) or crushed rocks. There are also nice wafts of white peach, fresh cut grass and slight green bell pepper. It is rare to find a Sancerre with oak exposure but if there is it’s mostly neutral oak, barrels that have been used multiple times dulling the intensity of influence so the barrel can simply round out the austere tendencies of the wine. The more concentrated Sancerre wines also have the famous cat pee aroma. I know that may sound gross, but when you experience it your brain will release all the right endorphins.
The New World
As we move into the Sauvignon Blancs of the New World, the wine starts to gain a little bit of weight. Where European styles tend more toward high acidity and bracing minerality, the best examples of the new world have a less acidity, which deepens the wines. Make no mistake though, they still have tons of personality.
Napa/Sonoma (New World)
California has its own clones of Sauvignon Blanc, a result of an increasing popularity of the grape in the 80’s and 90’s – these clones are also being planted in Chile, which I’ll get to in a bit. A good California Sauvignon Blanc will go for around $15 but can increase to about $30 plus. Generally these wines have a solid straw color with hints of gold. And then, welcome to the aroma party! There are a plethora of descriptors for Cali Sauv Blanc, here are the ones that stand out to me, ripe ruby red grapefruit and mandarin orange with hints of lemon and lime. There are also tropical fruit notes such as passion fruit and kiwi. Not much green apple here, but ripe red apple and some melon. And it doesn’t stop there. You often get fresh cut grass but also lemongrass, sometimes a bit of tarragon and a kiss of white flowers and citrus blossom. DAMN! Like Ragu, “It’s in there!”
New Zealand (New World)
Sauvignon Blanc put New Zealand on the map. Specifically the Marlborough region on the northwest stretch of the southern island. The word of the day with this wine is pungency. The price range for these wines run the full spectrum from $5 a bottle all the way upwards to $30 plus. PUNGENCY! Although these wines have a good amount of acidity they can still feel weighty with all the heavy aromas that waft into your face. The citrus notes are all grapefruit and lemon with a nice helping of pineapple for the tropical fruit. You get fresh cut grass but also a good amount of Asparagus and what the wine world calls canned peas. The green bell pepper notes tend more towards jalapeno and if you have ever smelled fresh rhubarb there’s no denying it’s in there.
As I stated above Sauvignon Blanc is grown all over the world. There are other significant areas such as Chile, South Africa and the Friuli region of Italy that have lively, refreshing and sometimes stunning qualities. Choose which one strikes you as interesting and have a go. If you like it, then you can take those descriptors and ask for another example within your preference range. More than anything, have fun! Sauvignon Blanc is a wild and crazy wine that is often the star of summer parties. You may attend a get together and see that there are a few different styles on offer. Taste through, keeping this post in mind and you’ll start to really get a sense of the diversity of this grape.