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Categorized | White Wine

Wine 101-Sauvignon Blanc

 

 

sauvignon blanc Wine 101 Sauvignon Blanc

About Sauvignon Blanc

 

For all of its name recognition and reputation for high-quality plantings and bottlings, Sauvignon Blanc has never been represented in lists or discussions of the spectacular wines of the world. But just because wines made from Sauvignon Blanc are rarely crafted for extended cellaring and don’t command staggering sums in international auctions doesn’t mean that there’s any justification for overlooking this variety.

We should start by setting the parameters of the discussion. Unlike Riesling or Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc finds its apogee in brisk, vibrant wines that are at their best when consumed young. Certainly, some winemakers, especially in California, have been vinifying Sauvignon Blanc in the style of Chardonnay. Unfortunately, this approach has exposed the entire variety to reprobation when these gussied-up Sauvignon Blancs fall short of Chardonnay but also lose their own distinctiveness. We find it’s necessary to embrace Sauvignon Blanc as a bracing, invigorating, food-friendly wine, rather than as a pretender to what it is not.

Recognizing this, we look to the Loire Valley, in the hillside vineyard towns of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, for the purest expression of Sauvignon Blanc. Here, the wines are necessarily unblended 100% Sauvignon Blanc, and they are usually made without the use of oak. This results in crisp, acidity wines, filled with mineral complexity. The nose often reveals hints of citrus and green apple. Look for wines from the two Cotat Domaines, Domaine Reverdy, and Pascal Jolivet. For the most expensive wines of the Loire Valley, don’t miss the cult producer Didier Dagueneau.

Within recent decades, New Zealand has also emerged as another premier location for production of Sauvignon Blanc in the "classic" style. Particularly in the Marlborough region, a cool climate, long growing season, and sandy soil help winemakers craft concentrated and well-balanced wines. Like in the Loire, very few winemakers use oak, preferring to let the grapes stand on their own. Compared to Loire wines, New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs often show more clean fruit flavors and slightly less minerality. But the similarities between these two styles are more noticable than the differences. Cloudy Bay is the most famous representative of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but newer entries to the market often deliver greater value: try Dog Point Vineyard and Kim Crawford Wines.

The white wines of Bordeaux reveal a different style of Sauvignon Blanc, as the wine is frequently blended with Semillon to produce white Graves and other Bordeaux blancs. This blending, as well as the occasional use of oak barrels for aging, adds richness and provides a counterpoint to the acidity. Blended with Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc is also component of the famous dessert wine Sauternes. For dry white wines that are dominated by Sauvignon Blanc, look for Chateau Couhins-Lurton and Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte.

It is in California where the tendency to dress Sauvignon Blanc as a Chardonnay imitator became most pronounced But we’re relieved to see that recently, producers have started to vinify Sauvignon Blanc on its own merits, embracing the grassy flavors and crispness that the grape comes by honestly. Consider wines from Cakebread Cellars, Rochioli Vineyards, and Spotswood Winery.

Finally, Chile’s Central Valley as well as the Casablanca and San Antonio Valleys to the north are emerging as the source of vibrant, unoaked Sauvignon Blancs at very reasonable prices.

With its bracing acidity, Sauvignon Blanc is a natural partner for fresh goat cheese, as the acidity slices perfectly though the chalky, pasty texture of this style of cheese. Sauvignon Blanc also works well with shellfish and delicate seafood.

Snapshot:

Recommended Growing Regions: Loire Valley (France), Graves (Bordeaux, France), New Zealand, California, Chile
Flavor Profile: Crisp, highly acidic wines with grassy, herbacious characteristics
Food Pairings: Fresh goat cheese, shellfish, seafood
Other Notes: Little is gained from cellaring these wines- drink within several years of harvest

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