All About Sauvignon Blanc

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Sauvignon Blanc is one of the most popular white wines in the world. Known for its grassy, herbaceous notes and high acidity, it compliments a variety of foods and is a light, refreshing drink sure to quench your thirst on a warm day. Originating in the Loire region of France, this green-skinned grape is over 500 years old and the child of a rare French grape called Savagnin—it is still unknown who the other parent is. The word Sauvignon is derived from the French word sauvage, meaning ‘wild’, as the grapes are known for growing like weeds throughout the region.

While France—mostly the Loire Valley, but also Bordeaux and South West and Languedoc-Roussillon—is the native land and largest producer of Sauvignon Blanc, it quickly caught on in other parts of the world. Today the varietal is grown in Chile, South Africa, Spain, Australia, Italy, the United States (Sonoma, Napa, and Colombia Valley) and New Zealand. It is actually the most produced grape in New Zealand with the majority of the vineyards located in Marlborough. It was in the 1830’s that the grape was first introduced to the country, but it didn’t gain international recognition as a leading Sauvignon Blanc producer until 1985 when the Cloudy Bay winery introduced its first Sauvignon Blanc and gained international acclaim putting the region and the country on the map as a top producer of Sauvignon Blanc.

Sauvignon Blanc Tasting Notes

Sauvignon Blanc is a vibrant, medium-bodied, dry white wine, although you may find a bit of residual sugar in wines from New Zealand giving it a slightly sweeter taste. It is best known for its distinct acidity and powerful floral and herbaceous aromas. The chemical compound pyrazine gives the wine its characteristic grassy, herbal notes. The primary flavor profile is going to be grapefruit, passionfruit, and green apple. You will pick up a distinct minerality and notes of green pepper and asparagus. It has a medium range ABV of 11.5-13.5%.

Sauvignon Blanc Styles

Stainless Steel Fermented

This is likely the style you are most familiar with as it is more widely used and what made Sauvignon Blanc so popular. These wines are fermented in vats made of stainless steel or concrete and give the wine its trademark acidity and distinct herb and citrus profile. 

Barrel Fermented

Barrel-aged Sauvignon Blanc is certainly rarer and thus also more expensive. These wines are fermented in barrels and aged on lees, or dead yeast bits, which gives the wine a rich, creamy texture. Occasionally, a winemaker will use oak barrels, which will add flavors of lemon and crème brulee. This style is frequently blended with Semillon.

Sauvignon Blanc Types

Sancerre

A French version of Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre is usually unoaked but still has the high acidity of a typical Sauvignon Blanc. The wine will have notes of green fruit like green apples and grass. This is considered a cool climate Sauvignon Blanc.

Chardonnay Sauvignon Blanc

This blend has become popular around the world. The two wines are very different on their own, but each brings something to the table in this blend. Sauvignon Blanc offers its trademark crisp acidity and bright aromatics, while Chardonnay brings structure and body.

Bordeaux Blanc

Also referred to as White Bordeaux, this wine is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, and can be either light and fruity or rich and creamy, depending on the style.

Sauternes

A full-bodied, sweet dessert wine originating in Bordeaux, France. This blend consists of Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle.

Serving Sauvignon Blanc

It is important that white wine is always served chilled. If the wine is too warm, the alcohol will overpower the flavor of the wine; too cold and the aromas are deadened. The ideal temperature will fall in the range of 50-55°F or 10-13°C. A wine fridge is great for setting a specific temperature, but this can also be accomplished by placing the bottle in a refrigerator for two hours prior to serving. Another option is to place the bottle in an ice water bath for 30-40 minutes if you are short on time.  

When serving, a taller glass with a narrow opening is your best choice. (A standard white wine glass will do the trick.) This serves two purposes: 

  1. Sauvignon Blanc is full of aromatics and the narrow shape of the glass holds the aromas in. 
  2. With its high acidity, you want to guide the wine down the center of your palate. When drinking from a glass with a narrow aperture, your tongue forms a U-shape and the wine flows down the center and away from the sides of your mouth, which tend to pick up the most acidity. 

You also do not need to decant Sauvignon Blanc as decanting will only cause you to lose all of the lovely aromatics the wine is known for.

Aging Sauvignon Blanc

The lack of tannins in white wine makes them less likely to hold up to aging, and there’s a bit of a debate on the age-ability of Sauvignon Blanc. It is typically thought that the grassy white should be consumed upon release. But today, many producers and collectors maintain that the wine’s acidity plays a key role in its age-worthiness and bottles can be aged for 5-7 years, perhaps even longer if it is barrel fermented. 

The key to aging any bottle of wine, however, is ensuring proper storage. The good news is, you do not need to have a fancy wine cellar to store bottles for aging. A cool, dark room with low humidity is ideal. A low-traffic area is also key as the vibrations will cause chemical disruptions within the wine. Finally, bottles should always rest on their side, not upright, as this keeps the wine in contact with the cork, keeping it moist. If the cork dries out, it can shrivel and let air into the bottle. 

Average Price of Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc is one of the more affordable white wines on the market. That being said, you can certainly find bottles in a wide range of price points. The average price for most bottles you will find in your local store is about $14 a bottle, but you can also find high quality wines in the $20-50 range. Even on the high end of the pricing scale, most of the expensive bottles are still only in the range of $130-$330, with the Screaming Eagle Sauvignon Blanc coming in at $5,372.

Fun Facts About Sauvignon Blanc

  • May 3rd is International Sauvignon Blanc day.
  • Sauvignon Blanc is a parent to Cabernet Sauvignon (the other parent being Cabernet Franc).
  • Concentrations of the chemical thiols in the ripe grapes might lead to hints of ‘pipi de chat’, or cat pee, in English.
  • You may occasionally see California Sauvignon Blancs labeled as Fumé Blanc, a term coined by winemaker Robert Mondavi. 
  • Sauvignon Blanc is the eighth most planted grape in the world.

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