Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Sauvignon Blanc

We've moved our regular Get to Know a Grape feature to Wednesdays this week to take a look at a dominant white grape: Sauvignon Blanc.

Together with Chardonnay and Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc is one of the best-known and most popular white wine grape varieties. Planted everywhere from Australia to France to California, this is a truly global grape. So what makes Sauvignon Blanc so appealing? For starters, its a very diverse and (like Chardonnay) "malleable" grape. This means that wine made from Sauvignon Blanc will taste different depending on the climate, soil type and vinification methods. For instance, Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire Valley and New Zealand tend to be crisp, acidic and refreshing. Conversely, those from California and British Columbia often have intense notes of tropical fruits, such as mango and passionfruit, and a more buttery taste.
For the winemaker, this means the chance to make a unique wine from a common grape. For the customer, it means that knowledge of region becomes that much more important, as you'll get a very different wine from a Californian Sauvignon Blanc than in a French one! Even within a region, Sauvignon Blanc wines can vary significantly. For example, wines from Pouilly Fumé in the Loire Valley region of France tend to be very dry and crisp, while those from Touraine (also in the Loire Valley region) tend to be fruitier and more floral.

Sauvignon blanc grapes tend to do well in sunny climates that have moderate heat. The recent rise in global temperatures has caused some issues for Sauvignon blanc producers in many warmer regions, such as Spain and Australia, as they must harvest the grapes earlier in order to avoid over-riping. Like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc is often aged in oak barrels before being bottled, especially in California. The oak aging softens the acidity of the wine, making it mellower while also adding a more buttery texture. Sauvignon blanc is also frequently used in dessert wines, such as those made in Sauternes or Barsac in France, making for deliciously sweet wines that pair well with cheesecakes and creamy dessert dishes.

Because of the effect of regional varieties, it is difficult to create a single list of food pairing suggestion for Sauvignon blanc. For light, crisp Sauvignon blanc, such as those from Sancerre or Pouilly Fume in France, light fare, such as salads, are a good, safe bet. Risotto and shellfish tend to pair well with New Zealand Sauvignon blancs and chicken and veal tend to go well with heavier, oaked Sauvignon blancs, such as those from California.

The regional variations of this popular grape can certainly be intimidating. but at the end of the day, no matter where the Sauvignon blanc is from or what style its made in, the most important thing is whether or not you like it! So if there's a flavour profile or food matching that you have in mind, ask around at wine stores, suppliers, or agencies (like ourselves) to see what sort of sauvignon blanc they can recommend to suit your preferences.

The Short Version:

Names: Sauvignon Blanc, Blanc Fume, Picabon, Savagnin
Flavour Profile (Oaked): Exotic fruits, peaches, and kiwi flavours.
Flavour Profile (Unoaked): Mineral, flint, thyme, and bell pepper notes and flavours. 
Best-Known Regions: Sancerre (France), Pouilly Fume (France), California, New Zealand, Margaret River (Australia),
Price Range: $10-$50
Food Pairings (Oaked): Chicken, veal, vegetables with buttery sauce
Food Pairings (Minerally/Crisp, Unoaked): Risotto, salad, grilled fish.

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