Suave and sophisticated yet vivid and vibrant in colour and flavours, Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp, dry and refreshing white wine that is produced from the green-skinned grape variety that derives its name from sauvage and blanc the French for ‘wild’ and ‘white’ respectively. Originally grown in the French Loire Valley and Bordeaux, it is now successfully cultivated world wide in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, California and South America.
Kind of Grapes Used
During the 18th century Sauvignon Blanc vines crossed with the Cabernet Franc grape variety from which resulted the Cabernet Sauvignon vine in Bordeaux, whilst in the 19th century vines in Bordeaux were crossed with Sauvignon Vert and the Sauvignon Blanc pink mutation Sauvignon Gris. Despite a resemblance in names, there is no known connection between Sauvignon Blanc and the Sauvignon Rośe mutation, also located in the Loire Valley.The Sauvignon Blanc grape variety traditionally buds late but ripens early. It performs well in sunny conditions. When Sauvignon Blanc is exposed to hotter climes, it quickly becomes over-ripe which results in dull flavour and flat acidity. With the onset of global warming, farmers now harvest Sauvignon Blanc grapes earlier.
History and Growing Locations
The sunny climes found in the Loire Valley, Bordeaux and Sauternes is ideal for the slow ripening of the Sauvignon Blanc grapes, which in turn allows for a good balance to develop between the grapes acidity and sugar levels, a vital ingredient for achieving the intensity of aromas characteristic of Pouilly Fume, Sancerre and Sauvignon de Touraine. In France, soil composition plays an important part as it influences the taste of the wine itself. While Pouilly and Sancerre are influenced by the chalk and marl in the soil, where more chalk compact soils produce perfumed and aromatic wines. In the Loire region it is the gravel soil which denotes a spicy and floral taste to the resulting wine. Indeed, it is the flinty and limestone soil composition surrounding the town of Pouilly-sue-Loire that gives a smoky (fumé) to Pouilly Fumé.
Certainly, it has been New Zealand that has provided white wine lovers with a significant selection of Sauvignons in recent years, when Sauvignon Blanc wines became popular in the 1990s, hailing from the South Island region with its maritime climate as well as from the Marlborough region with its sandy soil over slate shingles becoming the most desirous location for planting Sauvignon grapes, where the poor fertility of the soil encouraged the vines to concentrate their flavours in lower yields. Alternatively, in the east-west areas such as the flood plains of the Wairau River Valley, the heavier soils there make for more herbaceous wines from later ripening grapes, whilst the stonier soils cause the grapes to ripen earlier thus denoting a more tropical flavour. It is this variation in soil types and the variety of harvesting times that make New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc unique. It is the combination of asparagus, gooseberry and green, grassy flavours, resulting from methoxypyrazines in the wines, that are most associated with New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs.
It was in the 1880s that cuttings of Sauvignon Blanc were first transported to California by one Charles Wetmore, the founder of Cresta Blanca Winery. Today, California is still the leading producer of Sauvignon Blanc, with wine produced from the Sauvignon Blanc grapes known as Fumé Blanc, an allusion to the French Pouilly-Fumé and under which both oaked and non-oaked varieties of Sauvignon Blanc varieties have been marketed. Some plantings can be found in Canada, notably on the Niagara Peninsula and Okanagan Valley. In South America, it is the Valparaiso region in Chile that is most noted for Sauvignon Blanc plantings where a cooler climate prevails that allows the grapes to be harvested up to six weeks later than in other parts of Chile.
Since the 1980s it is New Zealand to which this versatile white wine owes it popularity. It continues to rise in the popularity stakes as wine lovers seek an alternative to Chardonnay.
Sauvignon Blanc is only one of four grape varieties used in the production of white Bordeaux wine, since it is usually incorporated as a blending grape, notably in Pavillon Blanc and Tresallier, whilst in the Sauternes region, it is blended with Sémillon to make Sauternes, a late harvest wine.
Sauvignons can be tantalising in flavour, ranging from grassy to fruity tropical treats for wine induced taste buds. Wine experts have described Sauvignon Blanc as being ‘crisp, elegant and fresh’ in flavour and it is best consumed early on as it does not age well.
Sauvignon Blanc – a wine with various and verdant aromas mixed with a tangy freshness to produce a tantalising beverage that always beckons its admirers for another sip.