Sauvignon Blanc is all about choosing between different styles
Sauvignon Blanc is a white wine grape grown all over the world. A versatile grape, it is most often found as a dry white wine, but can also be made into a delicious dessert wine. It is heavily featured in Sauternes, one of the most sought after wine styles on Earth. Despite being an Old World grape varietal, Sauvignon Blanc found its stride on the world stage in only the past few decades as New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has risen in prominence.
With two major expressions that range from grassy, high-acid, and lightly fruity wines to oaky, ripe, tropical fruit bombs, Sauvignon Blanc can be many things to many people. It can express terroir across different appellations, and it can be made to suit a winemaker's needs.
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IN THIS ARTICLE:
History of Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon Blanc (pronounced so-vin-yawn blah-unk) is a white wine grape that likely originated in the Loire Valley or Bordeaux. The name comes from the French word sauvage which means "wild" as it likely evolved from wild grapes. Ampelographers are certain that in the 1700s it crossed with Cabernet Franc to breed the Cabernet Sauvignon grape.
While it had plenty of time to distinguish itself in France, it wasn't until it was planted in New Zealand in the 1970s that it began to thrive on the world stage. This cemented its status as New World star and gave rise to multiple interpretations of the grape. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and California's Fumé Blanc offer two sides of the proverbial coin for a winemaker to strive for. Today it is grown all over the world and made in myriad styles.
The term "Fumé Blanc" was coined by Robert Mondavi for his Napa Valley Sauvignon Blancs even though they share little in common with Pouilly Fumé in France.
What does Sauvignon Blanc taste like?
Sauvignon Blanc is as much about winemaking style as it is about terroir. The biggest choice when looking for a Sauvignon Blanc is choosing between the crisp New Zealand style or the ripe Fumé Blanc style.
Typical notes in the crisp style include freshly cut grass, light tropical fruits like passion fruit, gooseberry, green apple, bell pepper, and light citrus (specifically grapefruit and lime zest). In some of the most interesting examples from New Zealand there is a flavor often referred to as "cat pee." (Yes this is a good thing!)
Fumé Blanc or typical Sauvignon Blanc wines from Bordeaux exhibit riper tropical fruits like mango, melon, and sometimes white peach often alongside oak.
Sauvignon Blanc is also used alongside Sémillon and Muscadelle to make the famous Sauternes dessert wine. Unlike dry wines made with the grape, this wine is a balance of honeyed flavors and ripe acidity.
If a winemaker doesn't desire to have an oaky Sauvignon Blanc then they ferment the wine in stainless steel vats to preserve the white grape's freshness.
Sauvignon Blanc Characteristics
Sauvignon Blanc grapes only grow well in specific places. It prefers cooler climate sites in warmer regions. This typically means that it grows well close to the ocean as the breezes off the water help regulate the diurnal shift (hot and cold temperatures between day and night). To this grape, soil is less important. The thin skins make it an ideal candidate for sweet wine as it is highly susceptible to Botrytis cinerea (Noble Rot), which removes water content from the grape and leaves it concentrated and sweet.
Sauvignon Blanc Nutritional Facts
The nutritional value in Sauvignon Blanc varies greatly depending on two main factors: alcohol and sugar. The more sugar present in a wine, the more carbohydrates.
The alcohol in Sauvignon Blanc varies depending on how ripe the grapes were when harvested, if the winemaker added extra sugar, and how long it was allowed to ferment. Sauvignon Blanc wines are generally in the middle range for all of these categories.
How to Serve and Store Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon Blanc is meant to be enjoyed young and fresh. There are only a few examples meant to age, so enjoy it now.
Serving Sauvignon Blanc can be done simply. The wine should be chilled, and then opened. If you want to experience the wine through multiple stages we recommend popping your wine in the refrigerator an hour or two before serving and tasting as it warms in your glass, but this is all personal preference. Enjoy your wine how you like it.
Once your wine is cooled it is time to open the bottle. You will need a traditional corkscrew, but there are good examples of Sauvignon Blanc that use a screwcap.
If you are storing Sauvignon Blanc, it should be in a cool place that does not receive direct sunlight, and preferably in a wine refrigerator or cellar. 55 degrees Fahrenheit is the median temperature wine should be stored if you wish to age the bottles. What matters most is consistency. Do not store your Sauvignon Blanc in a place that receives direct sunlight, heat, or too much humidity and remember to enjoy it while it's fresh.
What to Pair with Sauvignon Blanc
Pairing wine has some general rules, but we think the most important rule is to drink Sauvignon Blanc with the food you like. Sauvignon Blanc is a good choice for enjoying on its own as an aperitif before dinner, but if you are pairing we would recommend drinking it with rich or spicy dishes. The high acidity makes it great for balancing out pungent, umami-rich dishes.
Sauvignon Blanc Wine Regions Around the World
Sauvignon Blanc is truly an international grape and grows all over the winemaking world. The styles vary greatly by region and by producer. Here is a brief overview of where it is growing, and broad tasting notes associated with each region.
Sauvignon Blanc has grown in France for a long time. Bordeaux is home to fantastic Sémillon - Sauvignon Blanc blends from Pessac-Léognan as well as in Graves . It is also part of the blend used to make dessert wines in Sauternes and Entre-deux-Mers.
In the Loire Valley the best examples also go by other names (such as Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé).
Good Sauvignon Blanc is also be found growing throughout the south of France, but these wines are far more influenced by New World winemakers than other French vintners. A good shorthand for the different styles of French Sauvignon Blanc is that the Loire Valley winemakers are more concerned with the terroir of their wines, and winemakers from Bordeaux and the Languedoc control the final flavors that they want to see.
There has been Sauvignon Blanc grown in Italy for quite some time, but it's only recently that the wines have started to shine. Sometimes in Italy and Austria, you can find examples of Sauvignon Blanc going by the name "Muskat-Silvaner."
The grape is grown all over California and is made in different styles. It often goes by the name Fumé Blanc which has no truly defined style, but typically refers to a Sauvignon Blanc that is rich in tropical fruit flavors and features oaky notes. Some Sauvignon Blanc can be found in Washington, Oregon, and New York, but the best is in California.
Australia's warmer climate doesn't suit this picky grape variety, so the winemakers have taken a page out of the French winemaking book and the best examples are blended with Sémillon.
In South America, Chile is producing amazing examples of Sauvignon Blanc showcasing a diversity of styles although good examples can be found in Argentina and Brazil.
New Zealand is the spiritual home of the Sauvignon Blanc grape. The cooler climate of the South Island and Marlborough, in particular, produce exceptional wines that are full of notes of gooseberry, bell pepper, asparagus, and passionfruit.
Just like New Zealand, South Africa is producing some very interesting Sauvignon Blancs in a similar style.
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