Sauvignon Blanc is a highly versatile and variable white wine grape that is one of the most planted and most popular grapes across the world. Though Sauvignon originated in Bordeaux, plantings in France have been overshadowed in quantity by those of the New World. Sauvignon Blanc quickly spread across the world when producers found that the grape was easy to grow and would display different flavors wherever it was planted. Sauvignon is almost as abundant as Chardonnay.
Sauvignon Blanc is influenced by the climate and soil, as well as the decisions of the winemakers. Like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc can be oaked or unoaked. Producers have found that different harvesting and vinification techniques can make good wine whether the climate is warm or cool.
Unlike a number of other international grape varieties, Sauvignon Blanc is no means at its best in France. Although French examples are excellent, New Zealand and other New World Sauvignon Blancs are equally good.
Sauvignon Blanc in Bordeaux is most known as a major player in the sweet wine Sauternes. Besides Sémillon and Muscadelle, it is the only grape allowed to be planted in the region. Sauvignon Blanc’s flavors and unique reaction to botrytis make it preferable for such a blend. Sauternes imitations all over the world also often are made up of Sauvignon Blanc. In Pessac-Léognan, many of the dry wines are made up of Sauvignon. The Bordeaux Sauvignons, especially Sauternes, are probably the only Sauvignon Blanc wines that can benefit from aging.
Sauvignon Blanc does even better in the Loire Valley. Exciting and vivid wines with greenish flavors of grapefruit and gooseberry are abundant, with two particularly famous examples. Pouilly-Fumé offers a slightly smoky flavor, and can be a little stony and minerally. The same is true of Sancerre, the most prominent example of Old World Sauvignon. Completely dry and intense, Sancerre can show a variety of green-tinged fruit and more complexity than most other Sauvignons. These wines are rarely oaked, and usually follow a traditional process that is not often changed. Experiments in the New World have often emulated these examples.
New Zealand is one country that makes classic, Sancerre-reminiscent Sauvignon Blanc with a modern twist. These wines, although they are now suffering from overproduction, are considered as good as their French counterparts. Marlborough has long been thought to be the best place in New Zealand to find Sauvignon Blanc, with its climate perfect for production. Sharp and aromatic, these wines emulate the Sancerres but add in a new, tangy flavor not found in the Old World.
Marlborough is cool, but not cold, and it is located near the ocean. The region’s climate provides versatility to the wines. Experts generally agree on the Wairau river as one of the better places to find Sauvignon Blanc. Sporting fresher and more modern tropical flavors, these wines are largely typifying the latest style of Sauvignon. Great Sauvignons can be found all over New Zealand, and despite the country’s small size, flavors vary significantly.
In recent years, America has taken to Sauvignon Blanc and California is now rapidly producing well-made examples. Robert Mondavi named his Sauvignons Fumé Blanc in honor of Pouilly-Fumé. Pouilly-Fumé’s Sauvignons were once considered superior to those of Sancerre and the best in the world. Mondavi’s example is generally followed across the state. Less aggressive than French or New Zealand Sauvignons, these wines can be more accessible to the average wine drinker. Some of California’s Sauvignons are sweet, which makes for interesting flavors.
South Africa produces a Sauvignon Blanc with a mineral flavor. Chile also makes minerally Sauvignon Blanc. Other areas such as Italy, Hungary, Washington, and even Austria are blazing new trails.
Sauvignons are affordable, rarely exceeding $50 a bottle. Fans of Sauvignon Blanc wines will find that they are pleasantly easy on the pocketbook.