A grape so fresh, it should be slapped! Sauvignon Blanc makes tangy, cheeky, practically assaulting wines. With shrill acidity, sharp green flavours, lean body, and a pointed finish, Sauvignon Blanc is the skinny girl with the big, brash voice.
'Sauvignon' is derived from 'sauvage', which means 'wild'. This is a truly appropriate name for a grape that’s renowned for its irrepressible leafy greenness. More than any other grape Sauvignon Blanc evokes the fresh, earthy, grassy pungency of the countryside in spring, which it can do in an almost aggressively funky way. Fruit flavours include apple, peach, grapefruit, and guava; there can also be strong suggestions of gooseberries, currants, and elderflower. But Sauvignon will always be identified primarily by its green associations: freshly cut grass, herbs, leaves, nettles, and green bell pepper. All of these outdoorsy smells are attractive, but it can develop the decadent smells of asparagus or even cat spray/pee which tends to be a bit of an acquired taste!
As always with wine, climate will shape the flavours and style. Grown in the cool-climate Loire Valley, gooseberries and chopped herbs will lead the fruit parade. Look for a dusty mineral finish on wines from areas like Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé. Chateau de Tracy’s castle vineyards have made wine since the 1300s, and this outstanding edition shows off the celebrated flinty terroir of Pouilly Fumé. Born of chalky soils close to the Chablis region, Bailly Lapierre’s Saint-Bris also has a stony framework.
When this spirited grape is planted in a warmer place like New Zealand’s Marlborough region, longer hang-time on the vine will result in tropical guava, passionfruit and kiwi aromas and flavours. Note the lush, forward fruit in Matua, who were early proponents of Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand. Kick up the tangy intensity with impressive Nobilo Icon. A major grape in Chile’s breezy coastal zones, you’ll find the same generous fruit in Tabaí’s Reserva.
Sauvignon Blanc is a green-skinned grape that originated in Bordeaux, where it plays a prominent role making both dry and sweet wines, often in combination with semillon. You can taste this duo in this fine B.C. wine from Naramata’s Howling Bluff, where a few years of bottle age has encouraged lovely complexity and a creamy texture. Sauvignon Blanc is a brilliant grape for transmitting a sense of place - try Haywire’s Waters and Banks wine for an example of a wine that shows place, not grape.
To keep the focus on that piercing green fruit, a neutral fermentation vessel like stainless steel tanks or concrete is typically used for Sauvignon Blanc. However, a little caress from a wooden barrel softens and adds a spice layers as in this food-worthy thoroughbred from Napa. A smidge of oak-aged Chardonnay is added to Sauvignon in this gorgeously-labelled Washington State Sauvignon Blanc-dominant blend from Hedges.
The bracing freshness of Sauvignon makes it perfect for early drinking. The classic wine and cheese match is tangy, pungent Chevre (but local goat’s cheese is fine too!). Showing how well ‘like-with-like’ pairing works, both cheese and wine are high in acidity with aggressive flavours, and together, the chevre is creamier, and the wine softer and rounder. Other naturals for Sauvignon Blanc? Pan-fried white fish with a citrus butter sauce or seafood ceviche will fit like a glove.