The Sauvignon Blanc Grape
Sauvignon Blanc is a green-skinned grape variety believed to have originated in the Gironde area of southwest France during the seventeenth century. At that time it may also have been called Petit Sauvignon or Jaune. The grape gets its name from the French word sauvage ("wild") and blanc ("white") due to its early origins as an indigenous grape. The varietal however did not rise in stature until the mid-1960s.
Like many other wine grapes originating in France, Sauvignon Blanc grapes have been adopted by many other countries. In 1832 a new chapter in the history of Sauvignon Blanc was written when Australian wineries began cultivation of the varietal. Although it is now planted in many of the world's wine regions, producing a crisp, dry, and refreshing white wine, Australia's and New Zealand's warm climates would prove perfect for this particular grape varietal. Today, Australia and New Zealand make some of the most sought-after Sauvignon Blanc wines in the world.
White wine lovers should become familiar with the various Sauvignon Blanc growing regions, as the soil, climate and harvesting factors heavily affect the taste of the wine.
For example, prolonged exposure of the skins and the juice of the grapes (or the must) tend to sharpen the intensity and pungency of the wine. And warmer fermentation (around 16-18 °C) brings out the mineral flavors in the wine while colder temperatures bring out more fruit and tropical flavors.
Some winemakers choose oak aging, which tends to round out the flavors and softens the naturally high acidity of the grape. Other winemakers, like those in New Zealand and Sancerre, prefer stainless steel fermentation tanks over barrels with the intention of maintaining the sharp focus and flavor intensity.
Along with Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc was one of the first fine wines to be bottled with a screw cap in commercial quantities, especially by New Zealand producers. The wine is usually consumed young, as it does not particularly benefit from aging, except for some oak-aged wines.
Characteristics of the Grape
Sauvignon Blanc vines are very heat tolerant and grow quickly, requiring consistent pruning for best results. The vine is vigorous and upright in its growth, with small broad leaves and short bunches of berries with thick skins. They typically develop as a more acidic variety, but careful management contributes to pleasant flavors.
Like their frequent blending partner, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc grapes are susceptible to a fungus known as "noble rot," which causes the grapes to shrivel, leaving behind a sweet pulp treasured for dessert wines.
And a Hint of….
Depending on the climate, the flavor of Sauvignon Blanc ranges from aggressively grassy to sweetly tropical, sometimes with a grapefruit flavour. Many a wine expert has used the phrase "crisp, elegant, and fresh" as a favorable description of a good Sauvignon Blanc.
With naturally high acidity, Sauvignon Blanc is always tangy, tart, nervy, racy, or zesty, and this character pervades even the sweet and dessert versions, keeping them from being cloying or overly sweet.
At its most unripe stage, the grape is high in malic acid. As it progresses further towards ripeness, the grape develops red and green pepper flavors and eventually achieves a balance of sugars.
Where it’s Found
The top producers of Sauvignon Blanc around the world include Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States.
Sauvignon Blanc often goes by other names depending on the growing region. In France, it is Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé, while the label might read "fumé sauvignon" in Italy.
The Sauvignon Blanc, when slightly chilled, pairs well with fish or cheese, particularly Chèvre. It is also known as one of the few wines that pairs well with sushi.
The varietal hold up well with a host of other foods, including those that are moderately spicy, but not overdone. Poultry and shellfish are great complements, even when smoked. As both an appetizer and dessert choice, Sauvignon Blanc pairs with salads and tomato-based dishes.
Dry-style Sauvignon or Fumé Blancs are very versatile in accompanying foods and can handle components such as tomatoes, bell peppers, cilantro, raw garlic, smoked cheeses or other pungent flavors that would clash with or overpower many Chardonnays and almost all other dry whites. In fact, Sauvignon Blanc is probably the best dry white wine to accompany the greatest variety of foods.