Thanks to Julie for her interest in Sauvignon Blanc!
Sauvignon Blanc is yet another grape that carries uncertain origins. There are a number of potential parent plants, each placing its possible motherland in differing areas of the world. What we do know is that its more contemporary history roots the grape in Western France, both Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. From here the vine has traveled throughout the wine growing regions of the world.
The phylloxera outbreak of the late 1800’s deeply impacted the grapes production volume throughout Europe, resulting in vines now younger than the crisis in that region. However, the planet still showcases Sauvignon Blanc vines older than the phylloxera epidemic as cuttings were transported to Chile before the infestation of Europe. Chile remains the only country in the world never impacted by the phylloxera louse as its geography offers natural protection through the desert in the North, the mountains to the East, and the ocean on the West. As a result, some of the oldest vines in the world (of other grape types too) reside in the Chilean countryside.
Sauvignon Blanc Varietal Wine Reviews
Below the preferred wine from each region is reviewed through a wine review comic. However, a number of other Sauvignon Blanc varietals are also reviewed here through a text-only review. Each review is demarcated in this post with a bold title section. At the bottom of the post a brief note indicating which Sauvignon Blanc wines came out as favorites.
Sauvignon Blanc generates several world famous wines originating in Western France. In Bordeaux, the grape is one of several allowed as part of the dry white blend known as Bordeaux blanc–we’ll look at examples of such blends next week. It also plays a key role in the sweet wine blend, Sauternes (another we’ll look at next week). In the Loire Valley the wine is most well known for its production focus as Sancerre.
White Sancerre brings a mineral focus, and elegance to the grape, cultivating Sauvignon Blanc in either chalk or flint soil, both of which can be sensed in the final varietal when fermentation temperatures are kept high. While flint tends to offer leaner, long lived renditions, chalk instead generates a wine, by comparison, with a heftier body and mouth feel. Sancerre is generally placed in Stainless Steel vats for fermentation, thus abstaining from any oak influence on the flavors or aging potential of the wine.
By many, Sancerre is considered one of the most elegant, dry, and pleasing white wines in the world.
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Wine Review: Daniel Chotard 2009 Sancerre Imported by Kermit Lynch
Sancerre is generally understood to be less grassy than other varietals from this grape. This Chotard is no exception. The fruits are distinct, and pleasant, carrying noticeable and refreshing flinty minerals. Subtle white flowers lift the citrus, and slight tropical scents and flavors profile. The acidity here is also pleasing, bringing a nice mouth watering crispness to the fruit.
More on France
Though Bordeaux and Loire Valley are the largest production areas for this variety, it is grown throughout the country with differing styles of wine resulting. Though it does not play a huge role there, Sauvignon Blanc is one of the many grapes grown in the Languedoc-Rouissillon region of the South.
Wine Review: JeanJean 2010 Sauvignon Blanc Languedoc
This wine from JeanJean offers a clean, fresh fruit focused varietal with medium complexity, and finish. The nose hosts Meyer lemon, lime, passion fruit, and scents of honey suckle. On the mouth, you find Meyer lemon, lime, and tropical fruits. Refreshing, approachable, and pleasing to drink.
Though I did not draw a wine comic for the JeanJean, if you are looking for a Sauvignon Blanc to drink, this wine is recommended. I appreciate the clean, citrus focused, mouth watering elements of this wine.
Introduced to California in the 1880’s, Sauvignon Blanc went through a long period of being out of favor in North America. This reputation was changed when Robert Mondavi coined a new name for it–Fume Blanc–and marketed it as an exciting new dry white alternative to chardonnay. The pitch worked.
The Fume Blanc name is unregulated through the state, thus allowing wine makers to choose if they’ll sell their wine under the varietal name, or the Mondavi nickname. Because of the lack of regulation the production style with either moniker can vary widely.
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Wine Review: Hanna 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley
The grassy elements common to Sauvignon Blanc show lightly in the Hanna. They are well-balanced with fruit elements, and acidity that offers distinctive, recognizable fruit flavors. Fresh citrus, and light lychee notes dance in the nose, while citrus zing into balance with deepening melon flavors on the palate. The wine also showcases crisp pear as it warms. This wine is very refreshing both for its well-defined flavors, and fresh fruit focus, as well as the mouth watering acidity. Well-balanced, fresh, and crisp varietal here.
Wine Review: Frog’s Leap 2010 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
I want to note that I appreciate the humor offered from the Frog’s Leap label that puts the words “open other end” near the bottom, as if anyone could open the bottom of a bottle without simply breaking it. In the midst of wine tasting I appreciated finding the subtle humor.
The Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc (SB), however, was my least favorite of the many SB varietals I tasted. Sauvignon Blanc does best in climates where the temperature at any one part of the day does not reach too high–in more extreme conditions the grape tends to ripen quickly resulting in less distinct flavor components in the final wine. Here we find mushy flavors–they are not distinct or crisp, and instead traverse your palate as washed out fruit. The nose is very light with faint tropical fruits, and oak. The mouth shows a powdered candy taste alongside lime and passion fruit.
Though the grape was originally planted in New Zealand as an experiment to be mixed with other white varieties, here SB varietals are now famous. New Zealand established an internationally known wine industry for its strongly fruit focused, tropical notes rendition of the grape. Interestingly, production practices in the area have been strongly influenced by geography historically. Because there had only been proper production facilities on one island, while the grape was grown on both, grapes had to be transported by truck over long distances before they could be separated from their skins and pressed. As a result of the extended skin contact in transport, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc tended to offer fuller flavors and intensity in the wine.
The growing conditions here vary widely from vineyard to vineyard, thus creating very different flavor elements within the region. Still, due to the maritime climate of the long, narrow islands, the grape celebrates one of the longer growing seasons seen anywhere in the world. As a result, the New Zealand flavors tend to be ripe, rich, and full of fruit.
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Wine Review: Nine Walks 2011 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
The Nine Walks Sauvignon Blanc has a light nose of candied lime, and tropical fruits. The palate carries forward the tropical fruit with fresh lime, meyer lemon, passion fruit, and hints of pleasing pepper and oak. The minerals here are very light. This varietal is subtle in its delivery, and crisp.
Wine Review: Long Boat 2009 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
The Long Boat offers both herbs, and minerals with sage and subtle flavors of river rocks. The focus on both the nose and the palate are youthful green apple, passionfruit, and meyer lemon, along with unripe pineapple. Accents of white flowers raise the profile. The grass, and green pepper elements common to the grape variety are also present here.
Wine Review: Nautilus 2010 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
This wine shows a clear tropical fruit and citrus focus. There is also green pepper, and light oak showing themselves here. Very fruit focused wine. Not a favorite.
Wine Review: Kim Crawford 2010 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
The grass tendencies of this grape show here on both the nose, and mouth. The Kim Crawford offers the classic full flavor rendition that New Zealand is famous for. The nose has tropical fruits, and passion fruit, while the mouth continues this blend, along with some peach notes, and obvious oak-bite and heat. There is quality here but it is not my style of wine.
Recent focus has developed quality Sauvignon Blanc in Chile. The well-aged vines of the region along with the more recent focus on quality wine production in the area have combined to produce crisp, flavorful varietals. Contrasting the wines of this region against others mentioned, the Chilean Sauvignon Blancs are generally considered closer in French style, rather than New Zealand. That is, the flavors are more often refined, and cleaner with more of a tendency towards citrus and minerals, and less towards tropical fruits.
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Wine Review: Veramonte 2010 Casablanca Valley Sauvignon Blanc
Bright distinct fruit are found here in both the nose, and the mouth. Lime, meyer lemon, and passion fruit fill the nose, with them carrying forward in the mouth alongside juicy pear, and hints of tropical fruit. This wine is smooth, with a touch of spice.
Wine Review: Arenal 2009 Casablanca Valley Sauvignon Blanc
The flavors here are light, and less distinct. There are notes of candied lime in both the bouquet, and flavors, along with tart green apple, pineapple, grapefruit, light white flowers, and subtle tropical fruits. This wine offers mild heat. It is light, and smooth, showing citrus-candy flavors with a citrus bite. Not a favorite, though I’d recommend it above most of the New Zealand wines mentioned.
Varietal Characteristics: Sauvignon Blanc
Typical to this grape are fruit elements ranging from citrus and tropical fruit. Tropical fruit flavors tend to be more commonly found in New World wines, while citrus elements are generally common throughout. The grape is also known to have an herbaceous quality most commonly showing as grass, and bell pepper.
In less ripe growing seasons Sauvignon Blanc takes on an incredibly pungent (even often called aggressive) odor that people politely refer to as “cat box”, or more pointedly call “cat pee.” This characteristic is less commonly found in the varietal today as the link between this bouquet-flavor component and ripeness levels was recently discovered. Greater sun exposure in cooler climates is one solution to avoiding such flavor elements. In other words, cat box characteristics occur due to temperature, and sun exposure related growing conditions, and are not considered a flaw in the wine. For some, the quality is desirable.
Though the grape is most widely produced in Bordeaux, Loire Valley, California, New Zealand, and Chile, it is also found in small production numbers in South Africa, small portions of Australia, and in other areas of Europe.
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Which SB Wines Win?
Along with the JeanJean, the four wine review comics indicate my favorites of those tasted. Of the styles addressed here, Sancerre is my preference, with the clean, mouth watering qualities of the JeanJean, and the Hanna being next.
Monday will consider a side-by-side wine tasting of two very different Semillons, one offered young from Barossa Valley, Australia, and the other an older release from California.
The rest of next week will explore the commonly side-by-side relationship of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon through a comparison of Bordeaux blanc blends (from Bordeaux, and from elsewhere), and then of late harvest wines in both blended and varietal versions of the two grapes.
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