Patrick McGee

Wine Varietal Fact Sheet Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc is one of the world’s most distinctive grape varieties. Widely grown and very popular worldwide, its tart and often herbaceous flavor can vary widely depending on where it is grown and what techniques are used in the winemaking process. Flavor Characteristics The flavor of Sauvignon Blanc can range from lean and minerally to lush, rich and fruity. Many varieties exhibit a grassy or vegetal flavor that is often described as “green”. A high acidity is always present, resulting in a tart, penetrating flavor and aromas that can be reminiscent of grapefruit, citrus or gooseberry. Tropical fruit flavors are also common, kiwi, guava and passion fruit being the ones most frequently cited. Depending on soil composition and other growing conditions, these wines can have a significant mineral flavor, often described as chalky, steely, or flinty. Overall, the flavors of Sauvignon Blanc are powerful without being overbearing, which makes this grape an excellent vehicle for terrior. History

Sauvignon Blanc is indigenous to the Loire Valley and Bordeaux regions of southwest France. Still widely grown there, its name loosely translates to “savage white” in French, likely a reference to its origins as a wild grape in that region. Possibly a descendant of Savagin, a much older grape variety, Sauvignon Blanc combined with Cabernet Franc sometime in the seventeenth century to create the treasured Cabernet Sauvignon grape. Beginning in the nineteenth century, cuttings of Sauvignon Blanc were exported to the United States, Chile and other parts of the world, eventually leading to the grape’s current status as a global varietal. Climate and Geography Preferring cooler climates, it is a more finicky grape than most. Budding late but ripening early, it can thrive under heavy sunlight, provided things never get too hot. Growing regions close to bodies of water are ideal, as the water helps regulate the temperature. If the climate is too hot, the grapes are prone to become overripe, resulting in a lower acidity, which can create in dull, flat wine. Global warming has had a worldwide effect on harvesting trends, with many growers now harvesting their grapes earlier than they would have in years past. The Winemaking Process As with all wines, the production process can have a profound effect on the flavor of the finished wine, and Sauvignon Blancs represent a fairly wide stylistic range. As with all wine, production starts with the grapes, and here ripeness is the key concern. The balance of sugar and acidity is crucial, so a winemaker must choose carefully when to harvest their grapes. The level of skin contact is also taken into consideration. Some French vintners will allow some of the must to remain in contact with the grape skin, reserving this must separately and later using it for blending purposes. New World winemakers tend to avoid this practice because of its effect of the aging potential of the finished wine. Some wineries will employ bâtonnage, allowing the wine to rest on its lees and stirring it occasionally to redistribute the yeast sediment. This process creates a luscious, creamy texture that can provide a nice counterpoint to the bracing acidity common in Sauvignon Blancs. Though most often aged in non-reactive stainless steel tanks, Sauvignon Blanc is sometimes aged in oak. This is more often done in order to tame the grape’s aggressive acidity and give it a more rounded flavor, and the actual oak influence can be minimal. An interesting exception to this is seen in certain varieties of French Pouilly-Fumé, which are aged in charred oak barrels, hence the name, which translates to “smoked Pouilly”. Growing Regions Although widely grown around the world, Sauvignon Blanc seems to only truly excel in specific growing regions.

France As noted earlier, Southwest France is the ancestral homeland of this grape. Not surprisingly, many of the most highly regarded examples come from the Loire Valley and Bordeaux regions. As with other French wines, terrior is considered to be a crucial factor. Some examples from the Loire Valley include Poilly-Fumé, Sancerre and Touraine. The bright, herbal and flinty flavor of the wines from these regions is considered by some to be a stylistic benchmark. In Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc is often blended with Semillon and aged in oak. Versions from Graves and Pessac-Léognan have some of the greatest aging potential of all Sauvignon Blancs. Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blends are also used in the production of the region’s famed late harvest dessert wines. Examples include Château d’Yquem and Château Climens. New Zealand Skyrocketing in popularity over the past few decades, New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are unmistakable. They are considered, along with those from the Loire Valley, to represent one of the major stylistic interpretations of this varietal. Tart and lean, almost all bottlings exhibit an intense yet pleasant grassiness along with quenching acidity and notes of citrus and tropical fruit. New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are approachable, affordable and widely loved. Some of the best ones come from the regions of Marlborough and Martinborough. The United States Similar to the rest of the world, Sauvignon Blanc is widely planted in America but only seems to thrive in a few key geographical regions. The grape was put on the map in this country through the marketing expertise of Robert Mondavi. Thought for years to be an inferior grape, one that produced overly aggressive wines, Mondavi experimented with barrel aging to tame the flavor, and marketed the wine under the name Fumé Blanc-a direct reference to the French Pouilly-Fumé. Both oaked and unoaked American Sauvignon Blancs are now sometimes sold under this name. The best Californian Sauvignon Blancs are grown mainly in Napa and Sonoma Counties. The Colombia Valley in Washington State also produces some fine examples. Chile Due to many historical, cultural and geographical factors, much more red wine is produced in Chile than white. Sauvignon Blanc is one of the more prominent white varietals, and is widely grown. Unfortunately, many of these grapes are made into inexpensive, generic table wines, which often sacrifices the grape’s unique character. Not so in the Casablanca Valley. This costal region, once thought to be too cold for commercial production, has emerged in the past twenty-five years as an excellent growing region for Sauvignon Blanc. Casablanca wines are usually bright and crisp, with a subtle tropical fruit flavor that is reminiscent of guava in some examples. South Africa

Also known mainly for its red wines, a few regions of South Africa are excellent for growing Sauvignon Blanc. Some of the best wines come from the areas just north of the Cape of Good Hope, from regions like Constantina and Stellenbosch. The cool climate and proximity to the ocean creates ideal conditions for slow ripening, resulting in wines that are crisp and minerally, with a restrained fruit flavor. Australia For many years Sauvignon Blanc was used primarily in blended wines. Varietal examples are a fairly recent occurrence, and the best ones tend to come from the Adelaine Hills region of South Australia. These wines tend to be similar, if less grassy, than their New Zealand counterparts. Pairing with Food Sauvignon Blanc is a very food-friendly wine, though it has its limitations. Excellent with fish and lighter meats like chicken and pork, it rarely has the substance to stand up to darker meats like beef. It works beautifully with seafood, and in addition to being a classic pairing with raw oysters, it is one of the few wines that can be consistently paired well with sushi. Its acidity makes it able to stand up well to high acid dishes, such as sauces containing vinegar or citrus. It is also an excellent accompaniment to young, slightly tart cheeses like Chevré. Citations "Sauvignon Blanc Food Pairing Suggestions Varietal Matching Meals Wines | Gayot." Gayot, The Guide to the Good Life: Restaurant Travel Guide Top Restaurants Best Hotels Reviews Lifestyle Spas. Web. 22 Jan. 2012. <>. "Sauvignon Blanc." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 22 Jan. 2012. <>. "Sauvignon Blanc." Wine Information, Education, Appreciation | Professional Friends of Wine. Web. 22 Jan. 2012. <>. Thomas, Tara Q. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Wine Basics. Indianapolis, IN: Alpha, 2008. Print.

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