Grape of the Week: Sauvignon Blanc


We’ve been talking a lot about red wine since I kicked off the Grape of the Week theme with Bordeaux varieties. And, reds taste especially good this time of year, don’t they? But, just to break it up a little, how about taking a look at the most famous white variety of Bordeaux?

What to Expect
Fresh! Crisp! Citrusy! Zesty! Herbaceous! And, very reliably, quite refreshing. This is the wine I reach for when I want to flake out on the couch and relax at the end of the workday.

And, when I want to demonstrate acidity in a tasting seminar this is my go-to wine because I know I can also count on it to be tart. The fruitiness tends strongly toward citrus, especially grapefruit. It can also show gooseberry, melon and tropical fruit. Vegetative/Herbaceous character can play a minor or major role and ranges from freshly mown grass, to bell pepper to – hang on – asparagus or celery (folks aren’t usually smiling when they observe these traits.)

When you’re bargain hunting for white wine Sauvignon Blanc is a safer bet than predictably watered-down tasting Pinot Grigio. It’s more flavorful, even when it’s over cropped in the vineyard. One caveat: Cheap New Zealand SB may smell and taste a lot like tart bell-pepper juice – yoiks!

It gained its fame in the Loire valley of France where it makes the delicious Blanc Fumé, Pouilly Fumé, and Sancerre, but it’s believed to have its roots in Bordeaux, where it plays second fiddle to Semillon as the most planted white. From Bordeaux, it traveled the world and shows up in just about any wine region you can think of, and it’s the Semillon that takes the back seat in the global arena.  

Warm climate/Cool climate
Warm-climate examples (ie CA, Australia) tend to be fruit forward – citrusy and even tropical – with just an underpinning of grassiness. Cool-climate (France, New Zealand, southern Chile) selections show more green or mineral character. New Zealand Sauvignons are decidedly herbaceous but the good ones also show tropical fruit. From the Loire, you’ll notice less green and more mineral and what many characterize as a steely or “gun flint” character. Some may be slightly smokey. If you try white Bordeaux, you may get the scent of the wet sidewalk or gravel after a rain intermingled with the fruit.  

TRIVIA! A classic descriptor for Sauvignon Blanc is “cat pee”. Amazingly, it’s not usually by way of complaint! When I step out the back door at home I often get a whiff of juniper, which is awfully similar to cat pee, and always makes me think of SB.

Fumé Blanc = Sauvignon Blanc
Glad we got that cleared up. The names are interchangeable, so there’s no official difference. But, in the new world, choosing to use the name Fumé Blanc is often code language for saying the wine fermented and/or aged in oak.

MORE TRIVIA! The name, Fumé Blanc, was made up by Robert Mondavi in the 1960s to sell what was, at the time, an unpopular variety. Marketing genius that he was, he got his inspiration from the Blanc Fumé of the Loire Valley. At that time, in California, Sauvignon Blanc was usually made into a yucky (so I hear) sweet wine they called “Sauternes” (the real thing is an amazing sweet treat.) The new name was his way of marketing his dry, oak-aged Sauvignon Blanc. The wine sold like hot cakes and is still one of my favorites.

Good Eats:
Sassy Sauvignon Blanc is remarkably versatile at the table, thanks to the bracing acidity. It’s as natural to pair it with seafood as it is to squeeze a little lemon juice on it. It works very well with preparations that include citrus or herbs, such as scallops ceviche or a vegetable or pasta dish with lots of fresh herbs. Sauvignon Blanc is cheese friendly and is especially wonderful with its classic Loire-Valley partner, goat cheese.

YET MORE TRIVIA! Sauvignon Blanc’s street cred rose when it was identified as one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon. When you pick up bell pepper or green olive character in your Cabernet Sauvignon enologists point to Sauvignon Blanc as the source. The other parent is Cabernet Franc (Which is coming up soon as the grape of the week.)

HAPPY HO! HO! HO! y’all, and a beautiful 2013!

Send me your wine question  I’ll get back to you in a jiffy!

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