Better off White: A Guide to Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc is one of the most versatile and well-loved white wine varieties on the planet. Its brisk, vibrant, and refreshing nature has won this tipple its share of admirers. This  varietal has earned a spot in the international wine calendar. It’s a testament to this crisp vino’s stellar reputation.

Every 24th of April, connoisseurs celebrate Sauvignon Blanc by toasting to this amazing drink.

Sauvignon Blanc is elegantly  fruity and has clean flavor profile. It’s no wonder that it can be paired with an array of cuisines.

Foodies looking to enjoy a slice of the global wine lifestyle will no doubt find this food-friendly wine an excellent starting point for their foray into the wine scene.

The Sauvignon Blanc’s French Beginnings

Sauvignon Blanc is  currently grown in a myriad of Old and New World wine countries.  But it could have originated from France’s Loire Valley and Bordeaux districts. Recent studies show that the grape could be a derivative of the vitis vinifera, Savagnin.

Upon its discovery, vintners began using Sauvignon Blanc to produce zippy varietals. In the wine region of Bordeaux, the grape also became a valued addition to the highly celebrated White Bordeaux. As the tipple’s popularity grew, so did its presence in wine estates across the globe. Today, Sauvignon Blanc’s total vine area is believed to span over 275,700 acres. This makes it t the 8th most planted wine grape variety in the world.

You want more juicy tidbit? Sometime in the 1700s, the grape naturally crossed with Cabernet Franc to produce today’s King of Red Wines—the Cabernet Sauvignon.

Sauvignon Blanc Flavor Profile

Sauvignon Blanc boasts of a wide range of flavors. Different versions of the varietal can contain multitudes of stone. Some are citrus, and/or tropical fruit notes. In general though, the wine’s fruity undertones consist of apples, limes, melons, peaches and pears. It also has the riper hues of passionfruit, guavas, pineapples, and nectarines. Tinges of freshly mowed grass, green bell pepper, celery, and basil add freshness to this tipple. While a dash of smokiness and a touch of minerality bring complexity to its structure.

Like other fine wines, Sauvignon Blanc is great at reflecting the conditions of its terroir. When grown in warmer climes, grapes mature to a high degree, resulting in luscious and ripe wines. Hints of melons, figs, and pears provide underlying sweetness to the vino. Nippy vineyard conditions, on the other hand, cultivate lean and vibrant wines that veer toward the grassy and citrusy. These tipples feature higher acidity levels with mild to moderate alcohol content.

Another factor that affects the Sauvignon Blanc’s flavors is the vineyard’s soil composition. Chalky earth, like those prevalent in Loire Valley, adds craggy minerality to Sauvignon wines. While New Zealand’s marl soil yields spirits that have dominant citrusy notes.

The Bordeaux châteaux also has loose and gravelly terrain. This has produced vinos that are subtle in character but savory in flavor. Though conventionally dry in mouthfeel, Sauvignons can also gain better texture with a gram or two of residual sugar.

Traditional Sauvignon Blancs are usually fermented in stainless steel vessels. This results in whites that are clear, fruity, and crisp. These wines are very approachable and made for early drinking. As of late, however, more and more winemakers are opting to oak age their wines. Oaked Sauvignons offer an intricate flavor profile, with added texture and better aging potential.

Old World vs. New World Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc is produced in a plethora of Old World wine countries, like France, Spain, Italy, Romania, and Moldova. In these regions, stringent laws are in place to safeguard the wine’s ‘authenticity.’

Generally speaking, Old World Sauvignon Blancs lean toward the herbaceous, the earthy, and terroir-driven. These tipples are high in acidity but low in alcohol content. A rock-like taste is characteristic to these wines.

New World Sauvignon Blancs, on the other hand, are chiefly produced in the wine regions of New Zealand and Australia. Chile, the United States, and South Africa also produce these wines.

These tipples usually borrow the outstanding qualities of their Old World counterparts, while infusing riper flavors to the drink.

Modern Sauvignons are mostly lush, fruit-forward, oaky, and opulent, with medium to high alcohol content.

So what is the difference between the modern and classic Sauvignon? Well,  there was side-by-side tasting analysis between a ‘modern’ 2011 New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and a ‘classic’ 2011 French Sauvignon

They discovered that wine structure and flavor does vary depending on the wine region. The New Zealand offering was described as tasting predominantly of passionfruit. But it had  a bright acidity cutting through its sweet fruit flavors. Flinty tones brought balance to its structure. While the French vino was characterized with having grass-like and peppery elements. It was made complex by an abundance of minerality.

Though both wines had their similarities, the wealth of nuances in these tipples showcased the difference between Old World and New World Sauvignon Blanc styles.  

Sauvignon Blanc Food Pairings

Sauvignon Blanc is a wine that goes spectacularly well with seafood. Its acidity does wonders in cutting through the oil of sardine pastas and deep-fried fish and chips. This verdant vino also complements cuisines with an abundance of fresh ingredients.  This wine goes well with crisp Greek salads, spring greens, tomato consommé, and gazpacho.

For classic cheese and wine pairings, we recommend matching this drink with herbed cheese or goat cheese. While grilled fares like stuffed squid, seabass, barbecue chicken, grilled leg of lamb with rosemary, and garlic prawns also get the star treatment from this crisp varietal.

If you prefer your Sauvignon Blanc high in minerality like a Sancerre or a Pouilly Fumé, consider pairing a glass of the vino with sushi or sashimi. The wine’s citrus flavors can bring out the sweetness of raw fish. Its notes of wet stone also provide superb flavor contrast between the tipple and the dish.

Lastly, like Chardonnay, the oaked version of this varietal is best partnered with creamy pasta and pan-fried seafood.  Drink this with scallops and lemon sole fillets with salsa verde.  Also pair this wine with lightly smoked freshwater fish for a contrast in taste and texture.

Wine Aging Potential

It’s best to consume Sauvignon Blanc immediately.  If you’re interested to age it, well, set it to three years. After peaking two years post-vintage, the tipple starts to lose its mineral, fruity, and herbaceous bouquets. It starts developing a flavor described as canned peas. That’s something you don’t want to drink unless you’re terribly fond of canned peas.

There are some exceptions to this rule. A number of premium-quality Sauvignons/Fumé Blancs have been known to age beautifully for up to 15 years.

Recommended Brands and Vintages

2011 Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc. Dry and brisk, with a zippy lemon acidity, this vino is a stunning example of how great Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc can be. A dash of Semillon brings added flavor to this drink. Aged in French Oak, the wine exhibits a creaminess that brings depth to its structure and mouthfeel.

2012 Domaine Vacheron Les Romains Sauvignon Blanc. Best enjoyed in 2016, this rich wine is packed with sumptuous yellow fruit aromas. Its bright acidity is wonderfully balanced by steely flavors. Expect a long and lip-smacking finish.

2014 MacLaren Lee’s Sauvignon Blanc. Highlighted by a wealth of tropical fruit notes, think pineapples and mangos, this rich Sauvignon Blanc delivers an array of flavors to the palate. Its stony minerality is complemented by a lovely tangerine and lime zest finish. This is a very accessible and lively wine.

Wine Storage

Put it in the fridge. Auckland-based researchers studying New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc said that refrigeration increases the shelf life of this varietal. Proper wine storage can preserve the tipple’s tropical fruit notes, without dulling its acidity. To make sure the vino ages properly, consider investing in wine fridges or a well-regulated wine cellar. When storing the wine, keep temperature levels at the 48-degree Fahrenheit mark, to prevent baking or numbing the tipple.