Worldwide Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc

Following directly on the heels of last month’s Wine Focus on New Zealand, which naturally put a lot of Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc on the table, let’s make the logical move from this into a study of Sauvignon Blanc around the world as our Wine Focus topic for September.

Sauvignon Blanc wins fans (and, frankly, some detractors) because of its highly aromatic nature. But its style can vary widely, from an in-your-face chile pepper and even “cat box” character to grapefruit to cool, fresh-mowed grass and hay; it can be fruit-forward or lean, and in some of its most intriguing examples, can show a subtle, complex minerality. Much depends on climate, soil and vineyard practice; give it sun and warmth and get ripe citrus; shade the grape bunches and keep them cool and gain “green” herbaceous aromas.

It’s hard to think of a wine-growing area that can’t produce Sauvignon Blanc: New Zealand has claimed it as a trademark variety, but it was a mainstay of France’s Loire Valley for centuries before New Zealand became a nation; it’s also important as the white wine of Bordeaux, in a blend with Semillon.

California Sauvignon Blanc Wines

California is another center of Sauvignon Blanc production, where for generations it is alternatively marketed as Sauvignon Blanc or Fumé Blanc, originally in homage to the Loire’s Sauvignon-based Pouilly-Fumé. In the early days, Mondavi intended “Fumé” to indicate a Sauvignon with a whiff of oak, distinguishing it from the regular oak-free Sauvignon. This distinction has been lost for a generation, though, and nowadays “Fum&eacute” is used, if at all, strictly as a marketing option.

Finally, a bit of Sauvignon Blanc trivia that may surprise you: In the 17th century, French vine growers experimentally crossed Sauvignon Blanc with Cabernet Franc to see what might emerge. The result was the great Cabernet Sauvignon of Bordeaux. Think about that, the next time you’re inclined to give short shrift to Sauvignon Blanc.

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