Pungent, exotic, exhilarating... Sauvignon Blanc has a lot of personality! its aromas are so strong and pronounced, it’s easy to recognize/identify it when tasting blind.
Sauvignon Blanc is also known as the “green” wine, often showing aromas of green peppers, fresh cut grass, asparagus, black currant leaves, hay, all of this due to the presence of Methoxypyrazines.
Both SW France and the Loire Valley claim to be Sauvignon Blanc's birthplace. The styles however are very different in both appellations, and there is a third style coming from the New World. In Bordeaux and SW France, Sauvignon Blanc is usually blended with Semillon and Muscadelle which give roundness to this variety and it’s aged in oak, producing both dry and sweet samples (like in Sauternes). Here the climate is maritime with mild summers and winters and no extreme temperatures. The wines will be softer than those from the Loire, with a kiss/ touch of oak.
In the Loire Valley’s top appellations of Pouilly Fumé and Sancerre, the climate is continental with cold winters and hot summers. Terroir is important here, where we find soils rich in silex, chalk and flint, that give the wines its typical mineral aromatics and traditional cat’s pee aroma. These wines are not aged in oak or blended like in Bordeaux. Loire's Sauvignon Blancs show refreshing acidity too.
The third style and for me the best, comes from Marlborough, New Zealand. The climate here is cool maritime, influenced by sea breezes, but there are Sauvignon Blanc plantings in other appellations in NZ, too. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is very new world, fruit forward, pure and less mineral. California, Chile and South Africa, have many plantings of Sauvignon Blanc, though it may be hotter there than in the Loire and Marlborough. Best samples will always come from cool to moderate climates, Sauvignon Blanc does not do well in warm weather, losing its acidity very fast.
Sauvignon Blanc buds late and ripens early,and will get all its aromatic compounds just before getting optimal ripeness (the right balance of sugar and acidity). Because of this, some producers prefer to harvest in different trips, a first trip to pick up grapes slightly unripe (keeping acidity), a second one to pick up grapes at optimal ripeness and lastly a third trip to pick up fruit with extra hang time (for extra aromatics), this way both elements are present in the final product.
Old World Sauvignon Blancs are made at a higher fermentation temperatures (16-18 ºC/ 60-64 F), which will result in wines that are more mineral with gun flint and chalky aromas. In the New World (New Zealand, Chile, South Africa), wines are made at lower temperature fermentation and with short skin contact that will guarantee a more fruitful aroma. Remember the warmer the climate, the more tropical the fruit will be and these will also have a bit more alcohol. Cold skin maceration is often used to secure fruit in the final product, batonnage and aging sur lie (with their yeasts) can give the wines extra depth and creaminess.
Bodywise, most Sauvignon Blancs are medium bodied, their alcohol will depend on climate, it will be balanced in cool climates and higher in warmer appellations. Aromas also vary according to climate: cool climates will give green peppers, herbs, asparagus, kiwi, lime, grapefruit. In warmer climates, it can get tropical: peach, nectarine, pineapple and passion fruit.
Dry Sauvignon Blanc needs to be consumed young when all their freshness is in the bottle, though some good examples from Bordeaux and the Loire can age up to 10 years. New Zealand wines are best consumed young and up to 5 years. Sweet samples can age for much longer 20 or 30 years, and they will display honey, marzipan and apricot aromas.
In Bordeaux and CA, samples can be barrel fermented or aged in oak, just a touch of oak will give good results.
By the way in CA, Sauvignon Blanc is known as Fumé Blanc, when you see this on a label know, that means you are dealing with a Sauvignon Blanc that has a touch of oak. This name came from Pouilly Fumé AOC in the Loire Valley, though the style in the Loire Valley as I explained earlier, has nothing to do with California Fumé Blanc... California producers like to confuse us!
New Zealand: Cloudy Bay, Craggy Range, Kim Crawford, Greywacke, Matua, Babich, Nobilo,Greywacke, MT Beautiful, Dog Point, Nautilus, Sunshine Bay.
California: Merry Edwards, Ferrari Carano, Robert Mondavi, Desparada, Quintessa, Gamble Family, Heitz, Mason.
Loire Valley: Henri Bourgeois, Didier Dagueneau, Pascal Jolivet, Domaine A Cailbourdin, Phillipe Girard, Cheteau de Tracy, Jean Marie Reverdy.