Possibly no grape divides opinion as much as Sauvignon Blanc – loved by consumers if not universally by the critics.
Just what is it that makes this grape so divisive? Yes, it can be pungent: “Cats Pee on a Gooseberry bush” is just one descriptor often used!
Yes, a generalisation is it’s a grape that doesn’t particularly take well to oak so automatically appears to lack the kudos other varieties can command, and yes, in many cases the wines are considered best drunk young – but that is an oversimplification of what is a highly versatile variety.
I should say at this point I love Sauvignon Blanc or ”Savvy” as I like to call it – for me there is nothing better on a hot summers day (on the rare occasions we get them here in the UK!) than a chilled glass of refreshing, vibrant and hugely expressive Savvy.
Yes, Savvy is not shy – it doesn’t require oak to give impetus to neutrality, rather this is a grape that knows what it is and shouts it from the rooftops.
So what does it taste like? Well a lot depends on where it’s from and how it’s made.
In terms of key characteristics: the flavour profile tends to veer from gooseberry, green pepper, grass, tomato leaf, elderflower, nettles and zesty citrus through to riper passion fruit flavours. In short, fresh and fruity.
I mentioned before that it’s not a variety synonymous with oak – but that doesn’t have to be the case (see Pessac-Léognan and Graves in Bordeaux), increasingly producers globally are looking to ferment and age for short periods in oak, giving the wine more complexity and a more rounded texture, toasty characteristics and less noticeable fruit – in the process creating wines with increasing longevity.
Not forgetting the fact the grapes take well to Botrytis (Noble Rot) so can produce some marvellous ‘stickies’ (sweet wines)
New Zealand – Cloudy Bay put New Zealand Sauvignon on the world map way back in 1985 and the variety hasn’t looked back since. A personal favourite of mine is Astrolabe – available at Waitrose for £19.99: Herbaceous, pungent and with lots of tropical fruit, this wines’ verve and complexity reminds me of when Cloudy Bay was at it’s peak!
The Kiwi style is generally more pungent and in your face with trademark high acidity and higher than average alcohol levels compared to say:
France – The Loire is the historic home of Sauvignon, and those who prefer their wines toned back on fruity attitude and with a hint of minerality by which I mean a smoky/gunflint character (thanks to the silex soils of the region) should look no further than Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre (although nearby Menetou-Salon offers better value for money). Bordeaux’s left bank (Pessac-Léognan and Graves) is also a premier site for Sauvignon whether for varietal or blended dry whites or for use as a blend in some of the world’s finest sweet wines Sauternes.
Top Tip! In France wines are generally labelled according to their region/appellation as opposed to the grape variety, so if you are looking for good quality Sauvignon from the Loire or Bordeaux look for: Pouilly-Fumé, Sancerre, Menetou-Salon, Pessac-Léognan or Graves
Chile – increasingly producing wines in a New Zealand-lite style but at competitive price points. Best are the cooler coastal regions of Limari, Casablanca and San Antonio
South Africa – styles vary but generally they tend to be a cross between Loire and New Zealand: a bit of the minerality alongside vibrant fruit. Also at competitive price points. Cooler climate Elgin is a good region to check out here.