The Many Outfits of Sauvignon Blanc
If wine were a fashion show, Sauvignon Blanc might have the reputation for having the most diverse array of outfits and personas on the runway. In this analogy, outfits and personas are characteristics of the wine based on where it is grown. In other words, Sauvignon Blanc is extremely expressive of the area in which it is grown.
If you’re a wine nerd, you’re already thinking about a certain word: terroir. For my non-wine nerds out there, terroir is a French word that is used to describe the area where a certain wine is grown and made. The factors that influence the expression of a wine are a sum of all kinds of different factors. The topography of the vineyards, the soil, the climate, the natural yeast in the air, the UV index, everything. And yes, all of these factors play a role in the expression of a wine from a certain area. All of these factors make up terroir. In this case, we would say that Sauvignon Blanc is a very terroir driven varietal.
OK! Now that our Viticulture 101 class is adjourned, let’s talk about these different outfits that Sauvignon Blanc is so good at wearing. Our first example of Sauvignon Blanc is from France. According to scholars, Sauvignon Blanc originated in the Loire Valley of France. Classic Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc expressions are Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. Both of these are Appellations where Sauvignon Blanc is produced, and each style is slightly different. Sancerre is generally very crisp and vibrant with lemony-lime and green apple overtones. Pouilly-fumé is usually similar, but typically sees more time spent in oak during the initial aging process. Pouilly-fumé wines are generally a bit more flinty and smoky, and generally more complex. Sauvignon Blanc is also famously grown in Bordeaux in France.
These wines are much more tame than their American counterparts. In the United States, Sauvignon Blanc is most famously grown and produced in Napa Valley. Robert Mondavi began producing wines from Sauvignon Blanc in 1968. He was making them in a similar style to the method used in Pouilly-Fumé, and he thus coined the name for his California edition of Sauvignon Blanc as Fumé Blanc. Over the past few decades California Sauvignon blanc has evolved into its own unique outfit, but this one is quite different nonetheless from the French outfit. California Sauvignon Blanc is richer and more aromatic. It tends to have a more citrusy, grapefruit profile. And ultimately a touch higher alcohol because it is warmer in California.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum from French Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is extremely aromatic and expressive. If French Sauvignon Blanc is a one-piece bathing suit, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is a string bikini. Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand shows tropical fruits like passion fruit, kiwi, sometimes even mango. Along with an extreme grassy, grapefruit aroma. It’s one of those wines that, once you know it, you’ll never forget it because of its distinctiveness.
There are many other places where Sauvignon Blanc is grown in the world, but these are arguably the most well-known three. If you’re looking for a French version, try the 2020 Reverdy Hippolyte Sancerre. For US expressions, we love the 2020 Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc. And if you’d like to try a New Zealand example, I’d recommend the 2020 Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc.