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As the sun streams in my window and the breeze carries chilly but intoxicating smells of renewal, my mind wanders to thoughts of summer. My favorite summer wine is Sauvignon Blanc. Like a storybook princess, Sauvignon Blanc has a regal family, spent time being a wild child, has been nobly married to another that calms her down, revitalizes elegance, and if all goes well, lives a very long, sweet life.
What Is Sauvignon Blanc?
Sauvignon Blanc is a green-skinned white wine grape whose name is thought to come from the French word for wild, Sauvage. Her origins are most likely French, as in the 18th century, she was crossbred with Cabernet Franc to produce the world’s most prized grape Cabernet Sauvignon. She is grown in cool and warm climates but produces the best wines when balance between the two is found.
Where Does Sauvignon Blanc Grow?
Sauvignon Blanc is at home in many places around the world. In France, if Chardonnay is Queen, she is–you guessed it, the Princess, taking on many roles, from partnering with rich, round Semillon in Bordeaux to standing alone in the chalky or flinty soils of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. In Bordeaux, Sauterne specifically, when Botrytis Cinerea–a fungus that dehydrates grapes, more romantically known as Noble Rot–is introduced to the dynamic duo of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, sweet, ageable dessert wines are produced.
In California, fresh fruit forward Sauvignon Blancs are made generally in areas of moderate warmth to keep acidity levels high and sugar levels on guard. Sauvignon Blanc is slow to sprout but ripens early, so attention must be paid, or the wines will come out overripe and flabby. Many wineries choose to call their Sauvignon Blanc Fume Blanc, though there is no true difference. The name was introduced by Robert Mondavi in the late ‘60s, because when he tasted his wines, they reminded him of the smoky characteristics of Pouilly Fume.
Sauvignon Blanc is as relatable to New Zealand as a Koala Bear is to Australia. Though grown on all parts of the country, Marlborough, located at the north end of the south island, produces the most, making up 80 percent of the plantings. From the late ‘90s to now, these wines have had a meteoric rise, influencing how Sauvignon Blanc is perceived worldwide.
Other places to find good-quality SB are Chile, Argentina, Washington, Australia and Northern Italy.
What Does It Taste Like?
Whatever region you choose to try, Sauvignon Blanc will, in general, always have notes of grapefruit, melon, and passion fruit. Like a sound mixer, the extremity of each will be heightened by the region. In Bordeaux, the sweet melon character of Semillon will soften the racy citrus components. In the Loire regions of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume, the aroma of these wines is that of peach and gooseberry with crisp, clean acidity and wonderful minerality on the palate.
California has two styles right now: those influenced by the popularity of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and those that take advantage of long, warm days but have the skill to keep acidity levels in check. Personally, I like the later. When I am drinking California SB, I want it to reflect the nature of California. I look for more melon and stone fruits, with moderate acidity. I previously wrote about the Honig winery, and Michael and his team do it just right.
The New Zealand style is more “in your face” with notes of fresh-cut grass, grapefruit and passion fruit, and the acidity levels are normally mouthwateringly high.
What Does It Pair With?
Crustaceans and mollusks are terrific when paired with minerally French Sauvignon Blanc; California and New Zealand varieties pair with seared scallops; leafy, green salads; sushi; and grilled chicken or pork. Creamy dips, like spinach artichoke or white fish, are good as well since the crisp, fruity, cleansing components wake up flavors. I advise against pairing SB with anything too spicy or anything with a red sauce since the acids will fight instead of compliment. As far as cheese goes, Chevre (goat cheese) is classic, but brie and some sharp cheddars work as well. Blues, such as stilton and gorgonzola, paired with the honeyed sweetness of Sauterne can be astounding.
Which Are Your Favorites?
PKNT Sauvignon Blanc Chile $6.99 –
Notes of bell pepper and lemon-lime citrus with a long, crisp finish. This wine is a steal!
Crossings Sauvignon Blanc, Ataware New Zealand $14.99 –
Gooseberry, passionfruit and white honeysuckle flowers abound in this classically New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. The finish is long and lean, leaving you wanting more.
Domaine Etienne Daulny Sancerre $19.99 –
Floral and stoney on the nose, with lovely notes of Pomelo grapefruit, fresh-cut herbs and just a hint of pear on the palate.
Sauvignon Blanc, with her long and storied history, is still unknown to some wine drinkers. As the temperatures rise and summer nears, she is perfect to take to an outdoor picnic, accompany grilled fare, or relax with poolside.
Which are your favorite Sauvignon Blancs?