Sauvignon Blanc FAQ's
What is Sauvignon Blanc?
Sauvignon Blanc (sometimes shortened to "Sauv Blanc") is a white wine grape variety used to make white wines.
Some white wines made with Sauvignon Blanc are called "Sauvignon Blanc" right on the label, but not all of them. Other famous wines made with Sauvignon Blanc include Sancerre and Pouilly Fume.
Why is Sauvignon Blanc so popular?
Sauvignon Blanc is one of those French grapes, like Chardonnay, that has become a widely planted and widely consumed "international" grape variety. As some consumers decided that Chardonnay was too "oaky and buttery," many of them moved to Sauvignon Blanc, which is typically crisper, more fruit forward, and more herbaceous.
What does Sauvignon Blanc taste like?
Sauvignon Blanc wines can taste different depending on where they are grown, who makes them and what the vintage was like. But Sauvignon Blanc generally makes very crisp, dry white wines, with pretty fruit flavors of lime, green apple and a flavor that lots of English folks call "gooseberry." It also often has herbaceous notes. It can have profound minerality too, especially from top vineyards in Sancerre.
Is all Sauvignon Blanc wine dry?
Most Sauvignon Blanc is dry white wine, but the Sauvignon Blanc is also a grape in the spectacular dessert wines of Sauternes (and neighboring appellations in and around Bordeaux).
Where does Sauvignon Blanc come from, originally?
Sauvignon Blanc's "home" is in France's Loire Valley, but it has become a popular grape around the world.
Where does Sauvignon Blanc grow?
The most famous Sauvignon Blancs are grown in the Loire Valley, mostly in the AOCs of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume. But New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is almost as popular today, and Sauvinon Blanc also makes good wines in California, South Africa, Chile and, to a lesser extent, Austria, Northern Italy and Australia.
There are other, lesser-known pockets of Sauvignon Blanc production in various corners of the world. Burgundy has its own Sauvignon Blanc AOC in Saint Bris. The Germans (especially in the Pfalz) and the Spanish (especially in Rueda) have been known to produce examples.
The other very important wine region for Sauvignon Blanc is Bordeaux and in fact many think that it's the grape's original home (although more recent DNA and etymological evidence points us back towards the Loire Valley). Sauvignon Blanc occasionally makes a varietal wine in Bordeaux, but it's most often blended with other varieties, usually Semillon and sometimes Muscadelle. This includes the famous sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac, which are just about the only sweet wines made from Sauvignon Blanc anywhere in the world (though we have come across other examples...) Similar blends (dry) are also produced in the Margaret River region of Western Australia.
Is Sauvignon Blanc related to Cabernet Sauvignon?
Yes, Sauvignon Blanc is related to Cabernet Sauvignon! The name is no coincidence.
It seems crazy at first: Sauvignon Blanc is a light, bright white wine and Cabernet Sauvignon is a deep, powerful red wine. But Cabernet Sauvignon is a cross (which occurred naturally) between Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc. That's quite a family!
You can detect the family resemblance in the natural herbaceousness of all three grapes. All have a high level of pyrazines (short for methoxypyrazines), which is a molecule that you also find in bell peppers, and gives these wines their "green" notes. All the high-pyrazine grapes originate in and around Bordeaux (in addition to Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, you have high levels in Malbec, Carmenere and Merlot; Sauvignon Blanc is the only white wine in this group!).
Is Fumé Blanc a kind of Sauvignon Blanc?
Fumé Blanc is just a marketing name made up for Sauvignon Blanc back in the 1970s. It was popularized by Robert Mondavi's 100% Sauvignon Blanc wines that he called Fumé Blanc.
What are the greatest examples of Sauvignon Blanc?
The greatest examples of Sauvignon Blanc are from top vineyards in France's Loire Valley and Bordeaux regions. Of course, it's pretty subjective.
Although the Southern Hemisphere produces plenty of cheerful, fruity examples of Sauvignon Blanc, the world's greatest examples still come from the grapes' original homes in the Loire Valley and Bordeaux. The greatest Sauvignon Blancs made today include Dagueneau's Pouilly Fumés, and the top Sancerres from the likes of Vatan, Cotat, Boulay, Labaille or Vacheron.
But my own personal favorite Sauvignon Blanc is actually from Bordeaux: The Pavillon Blanc du Chateaux Margaux. It's a unique wine, as the vast majority of the 100% Sauvignon Blancs from Bordeaux are straightforward and inexpensive, and almost all the luxury whites are blended with Semillon and often other grapes. But Chateau Margaux has been doing it this way for hundreds of years, and the wine they make with Sauvignon Blanc is extremely special (and very rare and super-expensive)!
California is also trying with top examples from the likes of Araujo, Larkmead, Peter Michael and Spottswoode. I have not yet come across examples that have convinced me that these are worth the high prices, but I confess that I have not tried very many.
What about more affordable Sauvignon Blanc?
Start with Sancerre! It is really incredible how many artisanal Sancerres can be had here in the U.S. for under $30. Don't confuse these wines with the industrial Sancerre that you find in too many bistros, both here and in France.
You should also try a bottle of Cloudy Bay--the wine that put New Zealand on the map. This is full-on Southern Hemisphere Sauvignon Blanc, with an emphasis on berry fruit rather than the lime and mineral flavors more common in the Loire.