Julie Harrison - Sauvignon Blanc

Publish Date
Friday, 8 July 2016, 12:04PM
By Julie Harrison

Sauvignon Blanc is the grape that put New Zealand on the wine map in the 1980’s and is still by far our most planted and exported wine but what is Sauvignon Blanc like from other parts of the world? It is a variety whose expression is heavily influenced by the conditions in which it is grown. Broadly speaking, in warmer climates it is fruity and less acidic with cooler region wines having more acidity and grassy, green pepper characters.

It is thought that Sauvignon Blanc originated in South Western France, getting its name from the French words for wild (Sauvage) and white (Blanc), earning this title due to it growing rampantly in this region. In the 17th Century it accidentally crossed with the red grape Cabernet Franc resulting in the birth of Cabernet Sauvignon, which is why both these varieties have a distinctive herbaceous character.   In Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc is most often blended with Semillon and can be a dry wine or a very sweet wine.   A dry Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend can have ripe, citrus, floral, grapefruit flavours and may have been aged in oak giving it toasty, honey and vanilla notes. The best of these wines can be suitable for aging with wines from the Pessac-Leognan appellation being very highly regarded as well as Chateau Margaux’s Pavillon Blanc which is 100% Sauvignon Blanc.   The sweet wines of Bordeaux from Sauternes and Barsac are traditionally a blend of four parts Semillon to one part Sauvignon. Sauvignon Blanc adds a hint of acidity and life to the rich Semillon component.

As a single variety French Sauvignon Blanc is most famous for wines from the Loire Valley, in particular Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume. These appellations are located across the Loire River from each other right in the centre of France.   The chalky soils of these appellations are part of a limestone basin that stretches all the way from the White Cliffs of Dover, through Champagne and down to Burgundy and is responsible for some of the best wines in the world. A good Sancerre will exhibit some minerality, be bone dry with aromas and flavours of lime, gooseberry, grapefruit and maybe a hint of peach. In poor years from lesser producers it may be vegetal and with over 440 producers there can be variation in quality.   It is a delicate, restrained wine and you tend not to get that big hit of flavour you find in a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.   Pouilly-Fume is similar to Sancerre but the flinty component of the soil in this appellation gives this wine a smoky, gun flint character.   Lesser known appellations in the Loire Valley include Menetou-Salon, Touraine and Quincy which also produce good quality Sauvignon Blanc. Although Chardonnay is the main white grape in Burgundy you find Sauvignon Blanc grown in the Saint Bris appellation in the North of this region.

Outside of France the area of Friuli and Alto Adige in North Eastern Italy produce Sauvignon Blanc with aromas of exotic fruit, citrus, herbs and tomato leaf.

In Spain it is mostly grown in Rueda and often blended with the native Verdejo grape producing a light, acidic, floral, citrussy wine that is great in the summer. Chile is a large producer of Sauvignon Blanc. Wines from Chile are more on the herbaceous side with distinctive grass and green paper characters; the best coming from the Valparaiso area in particular the Casablanca and San Antonio Valleys. American Sauvignon Blanc is grown in California where it is also known as Fume Blanc. The warmer climate produces fruitier, less acidic wines. The wine is often aged in oak and has peach/nectarine, honey dew melon characters and is less herbaceous.   If you head north to Washington State you will be back in more familiar territory finding Sauvignon Blanc with high acidity and grassy, lime flavours.

Australia produces some good Sauvignon Blanc from its cooler regions. When you are travelling across the ditch look out for wines from the Adelaide hills which tend to be crisp and fresh with grassy overtones or for Semillon and Sauvignon blends from Margaret River. The cool climate of Tasmania produces wines with crisp acidity with some producers using oak to give the wine more richness.   Sauvignon Blanc is grown in the Western Cape region of South Africa. Wines from the cooler coastal areas such as Durbanville produce world class Sauvignon Blanc with tropical fruit, grassy, bell pepper characters. Winemakers may age the finished wine on lees or use barrel fermentation to give the wine increased complexity.   Whilst New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is a world class wine if you want try something new there are some really interesting wines from other parts of the world to experience; especially if you are lucky enough to be travelling in a Sauvignon Blanc producing wine region.

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