“Sauvignon” comes from the French word savage, which means “wild,” for the way the grapes can grow. I consider it wild in the sense that it can occasionally be quite headstrong and insistent upon making its presence known in the glass. Sauvignon Blanc is a tart, crisp white grape with a high acid content that makes still wines of light to medium body, and is also the main ingredient in one of the more famous sweet wines of the world. An aromatic varietal, it easily evokes aromas and flavors of green fruit and citrus which make it easy to drink and, like lemonade, remind me of hot summer days. This may also be because it sometimes smells of fresh-cut grass.
Sauvignon Blanc does well in cool or moderate climates and is a true barometer of the soil type in which it is grown. You will get some minerality in both the Sauvignon Blancs of the Loire and Bordeaux, for example, but they will be slightly different. In the Loire, you are going to pick up on more of a chalky flavor; in Bordeaux, it will be more gravel.
This varietal is quite comfortable in the Loire region of France, where the cooler climate brings out the vegetal notes that distinguish it from its softer sisters. Good samples from this area are found in the villages of Sancerre or Pouilly-Fume, where the wines with these titles are 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Sancerre does not further the “in your face” reputation that the grape’s name suggests, as these wines tend to be more subtle and sophisticated. Pouilly-Fume on the other hand does do its name justice. Its aromas are more intense and will have a greater presence of citrus fruit than its neighbor.
Sauvignon Blanc is also one of the main white grapes of Bordeaux, where it is often blended with Semillon that adds body and balance. Watch the labels for the villages of Graves or Pessac-Leognan. They are a little more weighty on the price scale, but this will be reflective of what you find inside the bottle.
Across the globe, another area where Sauvignon Blanc does very well is in the South Island of New Zealand - specifically, Marlborough. Sauvignon Blanc is the most planted white grape in the country and Marlborough is its largest wine region. Fairly new to the game, the first vineyards were established here less than half a decade ago and Cloudy Bay was the wine that laid the groundwork for the reputation these wines have on the international market today. It is still readily available and affordable. In fact, one makes its way to my table at least a couple times a year.
A good thing to note about New Zealand’s wine laws is that, if a wine is labeled as a particular varietal, at least 85% of the wine must be made with that grape. Another user friendly way they label their wines is that, if they are blends, the grapes must be listed on the label in decreasing order.
Never to be left out, California is also producing Sauvignon Blanc. Typically grown on sandy soils, you may not see that minerality that you pick up on the French bottlings. If you come across a Fume Blanc, grab it as it is also Sauvignon Blanc. It was dubbed this in the 70's by Robert Mondavi in an attempt to give the wines a greater international appeal (see Pouilly-Fume).
Choose a wine from a cool climate to contrast against a wine from a moderate climate for this exercise. In addition to tasting for differences in aroma and flavor, pay attention to any differences in color or acidity. You may also choose to compare an Old World to a New World. If so, note style differences.
I will warn you that you may notice the infamous "cat pee" smell during this exercise. Do not let this keep you from putting the glass to your lips as this is an instance where the flavor is not going to match the nose. It is going to manifest itself more in an asparagus flavor, and this is the term I will use when tasting these wines in public. California tries to mask this trait by blending it with Semillon or with the use of oak.
On The Label
Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre, Pouilly Fume, Fume Blanc, Graves, Pessac-Leognan
In The Bottle
Green fruit, citrus fruit, vegetal, herb, mineral, and we cannot leave off cat pee and asparagus
At The Table
Aperitif, Vegetarian, Mexican, salads, salty cheese