A Lesson in Sauvignon Blanc

It’s no secret that one of my favorite white varietals is Sauvignon Blanc…or so I thought. Yesterday, I went to a sauvignon blanc tasting at the Houston Wine Merchant in hopes of learning more about this wine. But instead, I left confused and questioning my love for this grape.

The tasting included four sauvignon blancs from France and one from the Marlborough region in New Zealand. I really wished they had offered more sauvignon blancs from different regions, so that I could get a better understanding of how this wine is produced around the world, but hey the tasting was free, so I took what I could get.

SB Tasting

SB Tasting 2

I didn’t really like any of the French wines too much. I found them to be very tart and acidic. It was hard to identify any of the fruit flavors I was used to with my Doctors’ Sauvignon Blanc. Knowing that I like New Zealand sauvignon blancs, I was excited to taste their sample. To my dismay, it was very grassy in flavor. I had the same experience earlier at Sonoma Wine Bar, when I ordered one of their New Zealand sauvignon blancs.

Now, can you feel my confusion?? Sauvignon blanc has been my go-to white wine for the past couple of years. For me, it’s a nice balance between a chardonnay and moscato…not too dry and definitely not too sweet. But after these recent tastings, I was starting to worry that I had lost my taste for it. Being the wine geek that I am, I decided to do some research about this grape. I wanted to learn more about it origins to get a better understanding of its different flavors…that way I would know how to pick a sauvignon blanc that was best for my palate. So, let’s get to know Sauvignon Blanc a little bit better….

Ty’s Takaways…

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Origin

Sauvignon Blanc [pronounced: So-Vin-YAWN-Blonk] is a green-skinned grape varietal that originated from the Bordeaux and Loire Valley regions of France. Very distinct and precise in flavor, this grape gets its name from the French words sauvage (“wild”) and blanc (“white”) due to its early origins as an indigenous grape in South West France.

Regions

Sauvignon blanc is planted in many of the world’s wine regions, producing a crisp, dry, and refreshing white varietal wine. Over 275,000+ acres of sauvignon blanc is planted worldwide.

  • Old World Regions: France, Italy, Spain, Romania, Moldova
  • New World Regions: New Zealand, U.S. (Sonoma and Napa), Chile, South Africa and Australia

Climate Change

Depending on the climate, its flavor can range from aggressively grassy to sweetly tropical.

Traditionally, sauvignon blanc is from cooler climates. In cooler climates, the grape has a tendency to produce wines with a noticeable acidity and “green flavors” of grass, green bell peppers, some tropical fruit (such as passion fruit) and floral (such as elderflower) notes. France, Chile, New Zealand produce cool climate sauvignon blanc.

In warmer climates, it can develop more tropical notes, but risks losing a lot aromatics from over-ripeness, leaving only slight grapefruit and tree fruit (such as peach) notes. Like in Napa where it takes on more peach, passion fruit and kiwi-like flavors. Warmer regions that grow sauvignon blanc are California, Australia and Washington State.

Flavor Profile

Sauvignon Blanc is one of the most widely planted wine grapes in the world and because of this it has a wide range of styles and flavors.

There are three distinct flavor profiles and styles that one will recognize when tasting this white wine. The fruity style, which often has no oak influence, boasts loads of citrus fruit, particularly grapefruit, lemon, melon and gooseberry that explode on the palate and in the aromas. The second flavor category is that of grassiness. No matter where it is grown, often contains aromas and flavors of freshly cut grass or herbal notes. When produced properly, these are amazingly delicious and alluring flavors which complement the citrus fruit beautifully. The final style is primarily produced in California where some producers have opted to age in oak, integrating a creamier style of white wine with hints of smoke and vanilla. These are often labeled Fumé Blanc, which is a marketing name created to increase the sales of Sauvignon Blanc in California a number of years ago. Oak influence often lowers the crispness and zest but creates a wine, which is more similar to Chardonnay in style.

Most sauvignon blanc wines are made completely dry, although a few producers in regions like New Zealand and California have been known to leave a gram or two of residual sugar to add a richer texture. And last, sauvignon blanc is medium to medium high in acidity.

Food Pairings 

  • Meat:
    • White meats including chicken, pork chop and turkey
    • Fishing including tilapia, sea bass, trout, cod, red fish, snapper, crab, lobster and clams
  • Spices and Herbs:
    • Green herbs including parsley, basil, mint, tarragon, chives and rosemary
    • Spices including white pepper, coriander, fennel, turmeric and saffron
  • Cheese:
    • Softer more briny and sour cheeses like goat’s milk cheese, yogurt and crème fraiche
  • Vegetables: Sauté green veggies or mix vegetables in more fatty vegetarian dishes so that the acidity of the wine shines through. Example dishes include: Asparagus quiche, cucumber dill yogurt salad, green hummus, white bean casserole with zucchini and white lasagna

Now that I’m more informed about sauvignon blancs, I won’t give up on them just yet…lol. I’ll keep sipping until I find more that I like…

What’s your favorite sauvignon blanc? Please share your recommendations in the comment section below.

Images by Devre White

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