Sauvignon blanc is one of my favourite grape varieties. Back when I first was getting to know about wine, I recall a particular occasion when we were invited to dinner at the home of the general manager of the Opimian Society in Montreal. It was a nice summer evening, so we decided to walk from our hotel.
By the time we reached our destination we were hot and thirsty. To quench that thirst we were offered a cool glass of sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley. At that time I would normally have reached for a lemonade or perhaps just a glass of cold water, and I wasn’t much of a white wine drinker, but the wine turned out to be just right!
The perfect libation
Crisp acidity and light citrus fruit flavours without the sugar of a fruit drink was the perfect libation.
Loire sauvignons remain one of my favourites to this day, from the straight-forward Touraine appellation to those of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. The grape has an abundant aroma with a wide range of associated descriptors including grass, thistle, flint, citrus, pineapple and other tropical fruit, and it is the perfect match for goat cheese.
Northwestern France appears to be the home of this variety as it has long been grown in the Loire as well as Bordeaux.
The grape has also been shown to be one of the parents, with cabernet franc, of the noble cabernet sauvignon.
In Bordeaux the grape is usually blended with semillon and sometimes muscadet to create Bordeaux Blanc, whereas it is usually a single varietal wine in the Loire. Variations on that blend are also used in the creation of the fabulous sweet wines of Sauternes.
Having established its pedigree as a constituent of Bordeaux Blanc and Sauternes it is natural that this grape variety has been planted in many vineyards all over the world — it is one of the “international” varieties. Today you can get wines made with this variety from every New World producing country, as well as places such as Spain, Italy and southern France where it has supplanted more traditional grapes.
The two best of the adopted homes of sauvignon, to my taste, are Chile and New Zealand. I still love the finesse and elegance I find in the Loire, but I have no hesitation to sip on wines from these two countries either.
Chilean sauvignon can always depend on ripe grapes, which ensures the development of some tropical bouquet. The large difference between day and night temperatures also holds the acidity, so that well made Chilean sauvignons are balanced and quite delicious.
Major New Zealand grape
There is no other place quite so dependent on sauvignon blanc as New Zealand, where it comprises 80 per cent of the country’s wine exports. In the early days, a lot of these wines were distinctly grassy, even vegetal, in their exuberant and plentiful aromas.
While this has a certain attraction, one can tire of it after a while. Recently, and in particular with the better made wines, I have seen the grassy element reined in and more emphasis on elegance and ripe flavours. These wines rarely disappoint.
A good example of the increasing finesse of New Zealand’s wines is the Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2013 from the Marlborough region (NLC $22.47).
It shows an abundant nose as one would expect from the grape and the country, but one of restrained complexity rather than over the top grassy exuberance. There is characteristic thistle, but supported by melon and similar tropical fruits. Don’t serve this too cold or you will chill the tropics out of the bouquet! Despite the big fruit component the wine lies lightly on the tongue with its fresh acidity. Score 17/Very Good.
Steve Delaney is a member of the Opimian Society. Email him at email@example.com.