Sauvignon sits sublime in all its glory. Number one in the popularity stakes, it is the nation’s favourite grape when it comes to white wines. Bright and beguiling, fresh and flavoursome; this grape is behind some of the world’s greatest white wines. Let’s see why it’s so celebrated . . .
There are an amazing assembly of Sauvignon’s available nowadays; lively and pure as single variety wines, 100% Sauvignons dazzle with their summery cut grass and gooseberry flavours. Blended; they take on a different dimension, reaching new heights.
Stellar Sauvignons are the world class blends of Bordeaux’s Grand Cru Graves, Pessac Leognan and Sauternes.
Great as the blended whites of Grand Cru Chateaux Haut Brion, Smith Haut Lafitte and d’Yquem may be, small scale Bordelaise wine makers turn out super Sauvignons too. Bordeaux has always blended its grapes for maximum effect and here Sauvignon is mixed with Semillon and Muscadelle. Further afield in France wine makers create glorious combinations, matching Sauvignon with Viognier, Gros Manseng, Colombard, Chardonnay or even the uncommon Loin de l’Oeil. Far from their Bordeaux brethren, Sauvignons are being married with Chenin Blanc in South Africa, Gewurztraminer in California and Verdejo in Spain as wine makers continue to push the boundaries of this versatile grape.
Wherever you look, there is a Sauvignon to suit you.
As you can imagine styles vary immensely but they do fall into 3 categories:
The Sauvignon Blanc grape produces mainly dry white wines but it’s also used to make sweet and semi sweet whites in Sauternes, Bordeaux. It’s hall marks are flavours of gooseberry, grass and bell pepper; freshness and juicy acidity. There are 3 distinct styles of Sauvignon Blanc wines which depend on whereabouts it is grown in the world:
Style 1: Loire Style – Sleek, lively and graceful wines. Fermented in steel or concrete vats they are unoaked and express delicate flavours. These Sauvignons are bright, refreshing wines that are less fruity than New Zealand Style Sauvignons. Flavours tend to be of green apples, green gooseberry, grapefruit, freshly cut grass and subtle green bell pepper. Loire Sauvignons are renowned for their flinty minerality (the scent of fresh wet stone). Well known Loire wines are smoky Poully Fume, Sancerre and Touraine.
Style 2: Bordeaux Style – Smooth, rounded wines with shimmering complexity. Blended (with Semillon, Muscadelle or Sauvignon Gris) and aged in oak barrels they have more floral aromas and are deeper and rounder than Loire Style Sauvignons. Flavours tend to be deeper and are of red gooseberry, lime, white peach, grass and vanilla (from the oak barrels). Great, age worthy Bordeaux Style Sauvignons are made by the top Grand Cru Classe chateaux and are much pricier than their peers.
Sweet and Semi Sweet Whites – There are around 10 or so AOCs in Bordeaux that make sweet (dessert or ‘liquoroux’) and semi sweet (moelleux) white wines. The AOCs Sauternes and Barsac are the better known. Sauvignon Blanc is combined with Semillon and/or Muscadelle to make wines with a beautiful balance between sweetness and zesty acidity. Flavours can include apricots, peaches, dried pineapple, nuts and honey. First class wines have an incredible ability to age (100+ years) and continue to develop in bottle for decades.
Style 3: New Zealand Style – Vibrant, polished and racy wines with zingy acidity and intense tropical fruit. These Sauvignons are pungently aromatic and are at the opposite end of the spectrum to Loire Sauvignons. The flavours of New Zealand Sauvignons are lush and exuberant, showing cape gooseberry, nectarine, jalapeno pepper, passionfruit and pineapple. Most are steel tank fermented but wine makers have started to experiment with oak barrelling to produce more complexity.
Sauvignon Blanc originated in France and both Bordeaux and the Loire lay claim to its birthplace. There’s a constant argument as to which region is its true home – Bordeaux’s claim is that the grape was mentioned in texts as early as 1710 in Margaux. The Loire’s claim is a little more tenuous as they say that Rabelais mentioned the grape in 1534 under one of its ancient synonyms, ‘fiers’. Either way, the grape definitely comes from S W France!
From Bordeaux and the Loire Sauvignon Blanc globe trotted around the world and it is grown in New Zealand, Australia, California, Chile and South Africa. The first cuttings of Sauvignon Blanc were brought to California in the 1880s and were taken from the Sauternes vineyards of Premier Cru Chateau d’Yquem in Bordeaux. It was introduced more recently to New Zealand in the 1970s.
Sauvignon Blanc takes its name from ‘sauvage’ (‘wild’) and ‘blanc’ (‘white’) meaning ‘Wild White’, perhaps because it was once a naturally occurring wild vine rather than a cultivated one.
DNA analysis shows that despite being a white grape Sauvignon Blanc is surprisingly the parent of a famous red grape: Cabernet Sauvignon, thanks to a pairing with Cabernet Franc.
Sauvignon Blanc’s ancestry is a bit of a mystery but evidence points towards one of its parents being the ancient French grape Savagnin Blanc. Savagnin is native to Jura in eastern France. If this is correct then Sauvignon Blanc is a sibling of Gruner Veltliner, Chenin Blanc and Verdelho.
Sauvignon Gris (also known as Sauvignon Rose) is a mutation of Sauvignon Blanc and has a dusky pink/apricot hue to its grapes. It contains higher sugar levels than Sauvignon Blanc and produces richer wines with melon and mango flavours. Sauvignon Gris is currently undergoing a revival in Graves and Pessac Leognan in Bordeaux with chateaux using it in their white wine blends (see Sauvignon Gris – A New Star for Bordeaux Chateaux?).
Terroir: Climate and Soils:
Sauvignon Blanc is late to bud and early to ripen. It enjoys a cooler climate as it doesn’t like the heat. However it does like a lot of sunlight; so in the hot New World regions of South Africa, Australia and California it flourishes in cooler pockets or in higher mountain altitudes (as in Chile). Maritime or continental climates (such as Bordeaux, the Loire and New Zealand) suit Sauvignon Blanc well as it can ripen more slowly here, allowing the grape time to develop a balance between its acidity and sugar levels.
As a rule of thumb the colder the climate the more acidic Sauvignon Blanc wines become, mainly due to the grapes being unable to reach full ripeness. On the other hand if the climate is too hot then the wines become dull and flat.
The vines grow in a variety of soils across the world which, along with the wine makers techniques and climate of the region, can affect its style and flavour. The chalky limestone of the Loire imparts a mineral taste to the wine and in New Zealand the clays are said to deepen Sauvignon’s fruit flavours.
My Recommended Sauvignon:
An original and intriguing blend of the rare Loin de l’Oeil grape and Sauvignon Blanc, made by specialists Georges Vigouroux and his son Bertrand-Gabriel.
Unique blend of Sauvignon Blanc with Loin de l’Oeil, an ancient speciality from Gaillac in SW France. A marriage made in heaven with an incredibly rare partner. Very fragrant with lovely depth. Floral aromas of orange blossom and rose water with layered flavours of baked apple, peach and apricot finished with lemon zest and hints of almond.
Food and Wine Pairing:
Gouleyant pairs beautifully with salt and fresh water fish, bouillabaise, spicy prawns, pasta puttanesca and paella. It’s also delicious with chicken dishes, pheasant, turkey, warm salads and cheese.
Having read about the origins and the adaptability of this popular grape why not try for yourself how versatile the sauvignon grape is by buying our Sauvignon Blancs Case currently on offer at £79.99. Alternatively search on our website for other wines containing the UK’s most popular white grape? Taste the difference and surprise yourself with the value and quality drinking this grape offers.