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Sauvignon Blanc

Updated: Jul 27, 2021

Sauvignon Blanc is a pretty popular white wine grape varietal, and one of my favorites to show in a compare and contrast style. Sauvignon Blanc originally comes from Bordeaux, France where it is the principle grape in the production of Bordeaux Blancs. It is blended in Bordeaux with a grape called Sémillon, which allows the blend to be rounder and less sharply acidic. When I teach about Sauvignon Blanc, I prefer to show examples from the Loire Valley, north of Bordeaux, where we get 100% Sauvignon Blanc, regions like Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. These wines show all of the acidity that makes the wine terrific, and the unique aromatics that make Sauvignon Blanc recognizable by scent alone. I have a sensitive olfactory, but I can be 100% certain of a white wine made of Sauvignon Blanc by it's aroma alone, before even sipping it, most of the time.

Sauvignon Blanc smells like citrus fruits, lemon, and grapefruit, hay, straw or grassy aromas are frequent, and gooseberry and cat pee are aromatics included in textbook discussions of the varietal. I try to omit cat pee, on the dining room floor, but I always include it in a discussion of the grape, because I would hate to think that someone would associate the aroma as a fault in the wine. Sauvignon Blanc thrives in cooler climates where the acidity is high in the wine, and the style is refreshing and thirst quenching. Sauvignon Blanc is rarely oak aged, with one major exception that has a commanding market presence. Fumé Blanc is frequently an oak aged style of Sauvignon Blanc, it is an homage to the Loire Valley nickname of the grape Blanc Fumé, or smoky white. My first experience with Fumé Blanc was Robert Mondavi's version that was allowed gentle Malolactic Fermentation, and some Oak ageing in the U.S. if you are purchasing a Fumé Blanc, this is likely it's style.

Most of the world omits oak ageing on Sauvignon Blanc, because it's natural aromatics are a huge part of the identity of the grape. I recommend several styles for different reasons, I love Loire Valley styles because they are true to the unmanipulated expression of the grape, but, especially these days, importing costs make these a little above the price comfort zone I would recommend. A better strategy might be to start with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Although still imported, they are made in great quantity, and therefore offer relatively inexpensive examples of the varietal. Grapefruity, and grassy, the New Zealand unoaked style is a great opportunity to try these mouthwatering, pucker inducing Sauvignon Blancs from several producers, all under $20. If you find that you love them, you can then invest a little extra in the Loire producers with confidence that they will please your palette.

Sauvignon Blanc is an historic grape varietal, though we use it to produce white wines, the grape was genetically crossed with a grape called Cabernet Franc, in order to create Cabernet Sauvignon. It has been used to make the white wines in Bordeaux for hundreds of years, and in many new world styles some blending is employed. In the warmer climate regions we find some different aromatics, and generally a little fuller bodied style produced. In Bordeaux, and frequently the United States, Semillon a weighty white wine is blended into the batch in anywhere from 15% or more. It makes the wine fuller, and less acidic. In South Africa, Chile, Australia, and Argentina it is produced in this weightier style as well.

I generally show cool climate Sauvignon Blancs in an effort to show maximum acidity, but a cool class is to show cool climate, versus warm climate, and even hot climate to show the progression of full body. An alternative is unoaked, slightly oaked, and moderately oaked to see the way oak ageing moderates the aromatics and acidity. Let's create your class.

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