The popularity of Sauvignon Blanc is showing no signs of letting up. People continue to buy, wineries continue to plant. We drink it throughout the year, of course, but it’s an especially fitting wine for summer drinking because it is generally very refreshing, zingy and uplifting, and usually it’s bottled with a screwcap closure which just happens to make it ideal for picnics. If the sun is shining it’s the alcoholic refreshing equivalent of home-made lemonade. It’s thirst-quenchingly easy to drink on its own, but slips down nicely with assorted dishes such as roast chicken, shellfish, white fish, grilled pork, salads and, a particular favourite, goat’s cheese. Few wines work with asparagus but Sauvignon can carry it off.
Planted just about everywhere where grapes can be grown though doing best in the cooler sites, from France to Argentina, from USA to Moldova, Sauvignon Blanc is still regarded as a premium variety despite, or perhaps even partly because of, its ubiquity. It’s an aromatic grape with many identifiable descriptors; gooseberry, passion fruit and lime, for instance, but which do vary depending on the vineyard site with the wine pretty much always retaining a recognisable characteristic wherever it is grown. It tends to be unoaked and designed to be drunk young.
Both Bordeaux and the Loire claim Sauvignon to have hailed from their respective neck of the woods but to date it is has been impossible to prove. What is sure however is that it is one of Cabernet Sauvignon’s parents the other being Cabernet Franc, and that the name comes from the word sauvage meaning wild. It has been tamed to perfection in the upper Loire in two of the area’s best loved appellations of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé where the wines are dry, intense, flinty and smoky with a classy elegance. These wines, especially from the top producers, tend to have a potential to age a bit, unlike their lesser counterparts planted further west in Quincy and Reuilly which instead offer good value zesty wines.
Bordeaux now produces some very accessible and affordable everyday citrusy 100% Sauvignons and alongside those are wines of serious complexity from Graves and Pessac-Léognan. Often they are aged in oak as well as being blended with Bordeaux’s other important white grape, Sémillon. These are more structured and creamy, though still wonderfully aromatic wines which do best when paired with food. There has been so much research in recent years into the best ways to grow and produce great Sauvignon in the Bordeaux region that many red wine producers are having a go with outstanding results, Château Margaux being probably the best known example with its delicious, and expensive, Pavillon Blanc. You can find a range of more reasonably priced Bordeaux at here
There’s good quality Sauvignon from Chile’s Leyda Valley and from Sonoma and Santa Barbara in California; I’ve tasted Sauvignons from China, Ukraine, Romania and India (Soul Tree’s award-winning Sauvignon has been mentioned in these pages before) but it’s Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand and in particular Marlborough, even more specifically Wairau Valley, which has really made a name for itself. Bold and distinctive in character, many are a little riper than their European cousins with more melon and tropical flavours. Their pungent grassy aromas can also be reminiscent of green pepper, asparagus and gooseberry. Two of my favourites are the bargain The Ned and the wonderfully expressive Greywacke. I’ve still to be convinced on much of the sparkling Sauvignon Blanc that’s produced in New Zealand but I’m hoping that one day one will find its way to me to persuade otherwise.
In the cooler areas of South Africa some fabulous Sauvignon is being made from Cederburg, Tokara, Iona and De Grendel to name a few. They are fantastic examples of the vibrant wine scene in this exciting and beautiful country.
I see no reason at all for our Sauvignon Blanc drinking to wane. With apologies to Churchill and Champagne, on sunny days you need it, on dreich days you deserve it.