Whether it’s the pungent aromatic profile or the crisp, thirst-quenching nature of Sauvignon Blanc, there’s no escaping the fact that we just can’t seem to get enough of it. It’s certainly become the envy of non-Sauvignon producing countries and the rate of new plantings around the world continues to grow apace. So much so that global plantings have more or less trebled in the past 30 years, placing it comfortably within the Top 10 most planted grape varieties in the world.
As we celebrate ‘International Sauvignon Day’ this week (6th May), let’s uncover what it is that makes this variety so distinct, bring you three New World examples not to be missed and reveal some lesser-known facts that may come as a surprise!
What makes Sauvignon Blanc stand out from the crowd?
The first obvious thing that hits you, quite literally, is the scent. It varies from region to region and country to country but the common denominator here is just how pungent it is. That same intensity carries through to the palate where the sensations are equally vivid. Flavour compounds, known as methoxypyrazines and thiols, are found in significant levels in Sauvignon Blanc grapes and are largely responsible for those distinctive herbaceous aromatics.
In addition to this herbaceous profile, you may also find green-skinned fruits (lime, gooseberry and green pepper), hedgerow florals like elderflower or cow parsley, asparagus and cut hay as well as a citrus-like acidity. These are particularly associated with cooler zones. In warmer zones or warmer vintages, you’ll find more exotic notes like passion fruit, pink grapefruit and orange blossom showing through.
Certain soils like limestone, gravel and flint can also accentuate the sharpness, and in the case of the latter, a faint smokiness, that adds another dimension to the wines adding greater freshness and salinity too. These are most evident in the famous French appellations of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé as well as the Graves region of Bordeaux.
Three Southern Hemisphere Sauvignons worth trying
Argentina may not be an obvious place to look for Sauvignon Blanc, but there are plenty of cooler climate zones that enable this variety to thrive. Especially in some of the more elevated sub-regions of Mendoza like the Uco Valley.
Doña Paula’s ‘Paula’ Sauvignon Blanc reveals the more tropical side of this variety with grapefruit, passion fruit and lime and there’s an appealing pithy texture and lively acidity that carries the flavours long after swallowing. This is genuinely good value.
New Zealand has faced huge challenges over the past year or so due to a very short harvest in 2021 along with the ever-increasing global thirst for Kiwi Sauvignon. Stocks are having to be managed very carefully and its hoped that 2022’s harvest, which has literally just started, will be considerably more bountiful.
We’ve been fortunate to have good continuity of Lake Chalice ‘The Nest’ Sauvignon from Marlborough. Set up in 1989, they’re part of the pioneering set of wine producers to spot the potential of this region and their first vines went into the ground in 1990. With three separate vineyards throughout the Marlborough region, each vineyard adds different nuances to the final wine.
It has the classic hallmarks of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc with gooseberry, green pepper and grapefruit pith with a distinctive blackcurrant leaf aroma too. This is all underpinned by racy acidity and finishes with a touch of mineral salinity. Overall, this is crisp, balanced and intensely fruity.
Sauvignon is widely planted around the western Cape but the challenge has always been to seek out the cooler sites, which invariably means either finding coastal sites and/or higher ground. If you’ve ever driven from Stellenbosch town to Franschhoek, you’ll know it’s incredibly mountainous and its here, up on the steep slopes of the Simonsberg mountain, where the Sauvignon vines are planted for the Wildeberg Terroirs Sauvignon Blanc.
The effect of this wild and exposed landscape on the grapes grown here leads to restrained herbaceous characteristics and zingy acidity that fans of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé will find really appealing. And at a fraction of the price, this is expressive and has plenty of textural weight that makes it positively sing with Asian-inspired seafood dishes.
Little did they know…
The best examples of Sauvignon Blanc, especially from Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and the Graves region of Bordeaux actually benefit from being aged for anything up to 25 years! Similarly to decent Riesling, the acidity softens a little with time and the flavours start to take on a petrolly and truffle-like quality which is delicious. So no need to rush to drink it.
Sauvignon Blanc is one of the Top 5 most planted grapes in the Republic of Moldova. It’s also popular in neighbouring Romania too. All the more impressive when you consider that both have numerous indigenous varieties that are long established across both.
Sauvignon is now an authorised grape variety in the famous region of Rioja in Spain and was added along with Chardonnay and Verdejo in 2007. The rationale was to encourage producers to make more modern, crisp, dry white wines at a time when the world’s wine drinkers were moving more in this direction. Spanish white wine sales have grown dramatically as a result!
While the wines of Sancerre have enjoyed an enviable reputation that spans 1,000 years, it was based on Pinot Noir and Gamay rather than Sauvignon Blanc, until the phylloxera pandemic wreaked havoc at the end of the 19th century. It was only then that Sauvignon Blanc was widely planted and though Pinot Noir still exists today, it only represents about 20% of the region’s output in both red and rosé formats.
If you’re curious to explore our full range of Sauvignon’s, please check them out here.
Happy Sauvignon Blanc Day!