Sauvignon Blanc -‘The wild white’
The recent influx of New Zealand Sauvignon blanc has taken the UK market by storm, making it one of the most popular grape varieties sold in Britain. Sauvignon Blanc has a long history which is increasingly becoming overlooked due to the highly aromatic new world alternative being widely displayed. It also is famed for its joint parenthood (with Cabernet Franc) to one of the worlds most highly regarded and famous grapes- Cabernet Sauvignon. The 17th-century crossing took aspects from both parents with Sauvignon Blanc providing a grassy characteristic however, the overall product does not closely resemble either original grape.
The Grapes Characteristics:
Typically, Sauvignon Blanc is high acidity, is pale in colour and is dry. The grape can produce both simple and complex wines.
It's difficult to define the flavours of Sauvignon Blanc as they are so specific to the region where it is grown. The grape can show a wide range of flavours from sharp and zesty limes, to freshly mown grass, to nectarines and even have notes of honey in warmer areas.
Typically, the flavours can be bunched into greener characteristics seen in cooler areas such as the Loire valley where grass, lime and gooseberries are the most common. The Loire also tends to show great minerality in the wines often having notes of smoke, chalk and slate adding to the wines appeal and high prices. New Zealand, Marlborough, in particular, produces distinctly aromatic wines due to its long sunny days but relatively cool temperatures. Passion fruit is a key flavour in this category and often allows the wine to be easily recognised. Other flavours include peach, mango, lime zest, and grapefruit.
In the warmest climates such as South Africa, California and Australia the flavours are very ripe and the tropical category is in full use.
The brilliance of Sauvignon Blanc is its ability to show these aromatic fruit flavours as well as a depth of herbal notes. Often there are flavours of green pepper, lemongrass, tomato leaf and grass. The potential to express both of these different flavour categories allows the grape to have a better palate than many other alternatives.
Sauvignon Blanc originates from the home of wine, France, or more specifically Bordeaux where it still plays a crucial role in white wine production. Until the second half of the 20th century, the majority of wine production in Bordeaux was white, both in sweet and dry styles. Historically Sauvignon Blanc played a greater role in the region that it does now in terms of planting acreage and production volumes. In white Bordeaux, it is used as a blending partner to Sauvignon Gris, Semillon and Muscadelle. As the second most planted white variety it is widely used in the majority of blends. Some appellations have set minimum percentages that must be included in order to qualify to name the white wine under the title.
It is also found in many Loire Valley wines with stand out appellations being Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. Here it is able to show more complex primary flavours with key tasting notes being centred around mineral flavours such as chalk, slate and wet stones. Although these aromas might not sound instantly attractive they add layers of intensity and complexity to the wine and are very pleasant on the palate. Both of these appellations lie in the ‘central Loire’ or ‘upper region’. This area is the furthest section of the Loire from the sea and closest to the Massif central mountains, therefore, the summer temperatures are moderated by the river and mountain position. The difference between the day and night time temperatures is very large therefore the area is regarded as one with high diurnal range.
This area also has three distinct soil types that are thought to add to the mineral flavours seen in the wine, these are Terre Blanche, Caillotes and Silex. Each has an independent mix and gives a different characteristic to the final wine.
Outside of France but still within Europe, it is found in lower quantities in Northern Italy and central Spain. Lesser known wine countries such as England, Romania, Bulgaria and Moldova are also increasing Sauvignon Blanc vine acreage.
It’s a popular grape outside of Europe and grown in many wine producing areas. Even Indian Sauvignon Blanc is starting to see its way onto the English market.
Currently, it’s New Zealand getting all of the attention. There fresh, aromatic version is popular with the UK palate. There are typical flavours of passion fruit, lime zest, grapefruit and occasionally the flavours move towards mango and pineapple.
New Zealand can be divided into the North and South Island, both in terms of geography and in grape characteristics. The warmer north, including Hawkes Bay, Martinborough and Gisborne often achieve riper, fruitier flavours. The South Island includes the most famous area of Sauvignon Blanc production Marlborough. Typically, this region is seen as the New Zealand benchmark. Here it is able to show both the fruity aromatic flavours (Passionfruit, gooseberry) as well as herbal notes of green pepper and lemongrass. Other South Island regions include Nelson with its tropical flavours, Canterbury that tends to show more elements of citrus and stone notes and Central Otago, famed more for Pinot Noir its Sauvignon Blanc is a mix between the previous two.
This large country creates a range of styles of Sauvignon Blanc. Many larger wineries have joined the craze and the grape is often included as part of their wider range. Australia’s cooler Adelaide Hills produces ‘Loire Valley’ style wine whereas the warmer regions of the Margaret River gives tropical, fruity flavours. Some Australian Sauvignon Blanc is oaked but this is a decreasing trend.
America has also given the variety ago and the Californian giant, Robert Mondavi famously created an entirely new look for Sauvignon Blanc. His barrel aged technique was heavy with oak and the wine expressed strong creamy notes. The style was named fumé blanc but oak aged Californian Chardonnay is far more common.
Producing some of the worlds cheapest Sauvignon Blanc, this country’s wine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK. Many of these wines echo the French style, focusing on high acidity and green flavours. Notable regions are Casablanca, Limarí, San Antonio and Aconcagua due to their cooler climates.
Again South Africa provides a cheaper alternative for Sauvignon Blanc. They are generally simple with fruity flavours. In the cooler Elgin region, Sauvignon Blanc is commonly planted producing a grassy style of wine, similar in flavour to their more famous crop, apples.