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The Sauvignon Blanc Grape


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About Sauvignon Blanc

(Synonyms: Beyaz Sauvignon, Blanc Doux, Blanc Fume, Bordeaux bianco, Douce blanche, Feher Sauvignon, Feigentraube, Fie dans le Neuvillois, Fume, Fume Blanc, Fume Surin, Genetin, Gennetin, Gentin a Romorantin, Gros Sauvignon, Libournais, Melkii Sotern, Muskat Silvaner, Muskat Sylvaner, Muskatani Silvanec, Muskatni Silvanec, Muskatsilvaner, Painechon, Pellegrina, Petit Sauvignon, Picabon, Piccabon, Pinot Mestny Bely, Pissotta, Puinechou, Punechon, Punechou, Quinechon, Rouchelin, Sampelgrina, Sarvonien, Sauternes, Sauvignon, Sauvignon bianco, Sauvignon Bijeli, Sauvignon blanco, Sauvignon Fume, Sauvignon Gros, Sauvignon jaune, Sauvignon jeune, Sauvignon Petit, Sauvignon vert, Sauvignon White, Savagnou, Savignon, Servanien, Servonien, Servoyen, Souternes, Sovinak, Sovinjon, Sovinjon Beli, Sovinon, Spergolina, Surin, Sylvaner Musque, Uva Pelegrina, Weisser Sauvignon, Zöld Ortlibi—though some of those are also applied to the Savagnin grape, aka Fié.)

Background

Map showing the Bordeaux region of France.

Sauvignon Blanc is a white-wine grape originating in the Bordeaux and Loire Valley regions of France, where it remains a mainstay type. It is generally considered one of the dozen and a half or so of world-class white-wine grapes (those in boldface in the dropdown varietals lists near the top of the page). It is today grown world-wide, with New World SB wines of note coming from New Zealand (especially), California, Australia, Chile, and Washington State.

Map showing the Loire Valley region of France.

Sauvignon Blanc has a strong and distinctive varietal aroma and taste, particularly in New Zealand's renditions. That quality is variously described as "herbal", "smoky" (SBs are sometimes called "Fumé blanc"), "grassy", and sometimes even—and favorably!—"pipi de chat" (cat pee); obviously, the quality is hard to describe—but once encountered is never forgotten.

The taste can be much affected by the climate: in cool climates, the wines tend to be sharply acidic, with the characteristic SB qualities foremost, backed by some notes of fruit and flower; in warm climates, the fruit comes more forward but the defining SB qualities correspondingly recede, tending to leave wines that are mildly pleasant but rather characterless. The best specimens are generally felt to be those from France's Loire Valley and from New Zealand. In most regions, it is bottled as a monovarietal, but in Bordeaux it is typically blended with Semillon to make regionally named wines.

It is not a wine that benefits much from aging, and indeed will typically deteriorate if not drunk young, though there are exceptions to that rule of thumb (typically those aged on oak before bottling).

Sauvignon Blanc is also used in dessert wines (notably Sauternes and Barsac), with which we are not concerned here.

Factoid: Sauvignon Blanc may or may not be descended from the Savignan grape, but the two are quite distinct today in qualities, despite which Savignan (and Sauvignon gris, yet another distinct varietal) are often confounded.


Some Descriptions of Sauvignon Blanc Wines


Some Sauvignon Blancs to Try

(About this list.)

We have ruthlessly pruned what threatened to become a virtual catalogue of SBs down to one representative for each of five major SB-producving areas: New Zealand, France, California, Chile, and Washington State. We could easily have doubled that list, and more, but those should be a fair introduction to the grape.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc
(Marlborough, New Zealand. This is not the "Section 94" bottling.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

A smooth, fleshy mix of honeysuckle, ripe melon, dried mango, peach and nectarine flavors, with a squirt of lemon juice. Succulent and complex, offering a whiff of smoky tea and celery leaf notes on the finish. 92 points. [Wine Spectator]

Everything you'd ever want in a Sauvignon Blanc is here—and then some. Grassy, herbal, citrusy aromas set the pace, joined by some slightly feral, wooly pungency that adds even greater complexity. On the palate, it's plump and mouthwatering without being excessively tart, and lingers gloriously on the finish. 92 points, Editors' Choice.

Pale, bright yellow. Sexy musky aromas of white peach, ginger and quinine. Ripe, broad stone fruit and spice flavors display more body than most Marlborough Sauvignons while maintaining a captivating piquancy. Really dusts the palate and carries on the aftertaste. Delivers an impressive combination of sweet fruit and salty finishing grip. There's nothing tart or austere about this compelling Sauvignon Blanc. 92 points. [Vinous, May 2016]

A wine that is full of excitement, showing an array of grapefruit, lime and lemon citrus as well as gently nettly herbal notes, really fresh. The palate carries juicy white peach and nectarine flavor, very attractive wine, acid holds crunch and balance is nigh on perfect. 93 points. [James Suckling, 31 January 2016]

The 2015 Sauvignon Blanc has a fragrant nose of elderflower, lavender, lemongrass and fresh herbs with hints of struck match and ground stones. Medium-bodied with a lovely satiny texture and great intensity, it has a lively acid backbone and long savory finish. 90 points. [Wine Advocate, December 2015]

*Five Stars* Deliciously restrained Sauvignon Blanc with mineral, citrus/pink grapefruit, and nutty lees/brioche characters. It has a great almost ethereal texture and plenty of weight and yet boasts tantalising purity. Very sophisticated Sauvignon Blanc with concentration and power. Tasted in a vertical line-up going back to the first vintage in 2004. This vintage earned top rating with 2013 although the earlier vintage is a an overtly fruitier and more accessible style. 2014 is probably a better food wine. [Bob Campbell, November 2014]



Chateau Ste. Michelle "Horse Heaven Vineyard" Sauvignon Blanc
(Columbia Valley, U.S.A. Blended with 20% Sémillon.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

Pale yellow. Ripe grapefruit, pear and peach on the inviting nose, with complicating notes of honeysuckle, ginger and orange blossom. Juicy, tangy Sauvignon Blanc with lovely definition and acidity to its brisk grapefruit and lemon peel flavors. This lightly saline wine is firm but not at all hard-edged, finishing adamantly dry and persistent, with lurking richness and lingering ginger and quinine notes. 90 points. [Antonio Galloni, Vinous]

The aromas are light with notes of herb, citrus and tropical fruit. The palate is a bit more generous, showing pleasing herb and tropical fruit notes accented by tart acidity. 88 points.

The nose shows amazing complexity, ranging from Key lime juice, gooseberry pie and tangerine, joined by passionfruit, mint and a touch of nuttiness from the 32% barrel fermentation. Inside, the ride continues with grapefruit and gooseberry, yet there’s some midpalate creaminess from four months of surlie aging that’s hinted at by flavors of ripe melon and passionfruit. It’s all backed by awesome acidity…Rating: Outstanding!

Gorgeous aromas of gooseberry pie and starfruit lead to juicy tropical flavors for a long and mouthwatering finish.

*Top 100 Wines of 2013* Bright, vibrant, expressive and juicy, with quince, pear, floral and spice flavors that dance through the long finish. 90 points. [Wine Spectator, November 2013]

This is a quintessential Sauvignon Blanc, crisp and racy on the palate, as the winery utilizes partial stainless steel fermentation to preserve its fresh & vibrant citrus characteristics. Another definite for warm weather quaffing.



Veramonte "Ritual" Sauvignon Blanc
(Casablanca Valley, Chile.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

The 2014 Sauvignon Blanc Ritual…aims at being aromatic but it's also a wine with volume and texture…The nose is subtle and shows incipient complexity, bay leaf, gooseberries and some herbal notes. The focus here was on adding texture -- it's not only acidity; it has certain volume, and the flavors are focused and precise. The model is Sancerre rather than New Zealand. 90 points. [Wine Advocate]

Aromas of green apple and citrus are as classic as it gets for Chilean Sauv Blanc. This is straight forward but enjoyable, with modest minerality. Flavors of citrus and gooseberry carry over onto a refreshing finish. 87 points.

A delicate white with lots of mineral, flint and sliced apple character. Full to medium body, fresh acidity and a clean finish. Subtle and refined character to this. 92 points. [James Suckling]

The 2011 Veramonte Ritual Sauvignon Blanc begins with light pineapple, peach and floral aromas along with a touch of vanilla and butterscotch. The wine tastes rich and has some creaminess to it. It also features a bit of zesty lemon. This is a really smooth, soft and balanced wine with a long finish. Time well spent in oak in my opinion — I’d love to see more Sauvignon Blanc like this. Taste Rating: 8; Cost Rating: 5; Overall Rating: 7.3. Recommended Buy.

Light yellow. Fresh lime, white flowers and dusty minerals on the nose. Nervy, sharply focused citrus and green apple flavors are complemented by a subtle honeysuckle quality. Racy and precise on the nicely persistent finish, which leaves bitter citrus zest and floral notes behind. [International Wine Cellar]

The Ritual Sauvignon Blanc 2015 is a bright and irresistible white wine. Intense citrus and floral notes are combined with flavors of white peaches and nectarines that are enhanced by the well-integrated acidity. It's long and vibrant with an impeccably clean, smooth finish. 93 points.



Mardon Quincy "Cuvée Tres Vieilles Vignes" Sauvignon Blanc
(Quincy, France.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

[It] delivers stony, mineral-drenched citrus and orchard fruit aromas and flavors, with very good spine and impressive precision.

Wow! Domaine Mardon is one of the big names in Quincy, and his 2005 Cuvée Vielles Vignes (85 year-old vines) lives up to its reputation. Just packed with flavor and exotic orange aromas. Its lively acidity makes this Quincy sing. Very fine, and a great value. A Daniel Johnnes Selection. 91 points

This Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley (about 50 miles west from Sancerre in France) has a nice lemon-straw color and a beautiful intensity. The nose is clear with a medium intensity. You can find some apricot, lemon and minerals notes. As the palate, it is a dry wine with a medium body and a high acidity, you will taste some citrus (lime), apricot and mineral (from the calcareoussandy soil) with a touch of bracken and a long finish.

Steely, with textured, vibrant flavors of herbs and minerals. **½

Jesus this is good. Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc done right. Flinty, citrusy and peppery. Tastes like a cool breeze. A fraction of the price of Sancerre and better than a lot of them.

[Google-translated from French:] Pale yellow color with gold and white. Beautiful aromas with lots of roundness and aromas of white flowers. The mouth is a good balance between freshness, fruitiness and roundness. The long finish reminiscent of light citrus notes.

[A] fine, limpid sauvignon blanc with flavors of lime, stone and minerals, the wine had good grip, a lipsmackingly marrowy texture, and an appetizing bitter almond, lime and stone finish. It was so fresh that, when comparing it to the Sancerre, I called it fringant. (In French, fringant means frisky, high-spirited.)

[Google-translated from French:] Quincy 2006 is very successful, the flowery, sweet and powerful nose, a beautiful aromatic aftertaste with hints of peach and lime, very well balanced in the final, tasty as 2005 and ample bouquet. Quincy Tradition got a Bronze Medal at the Concours Général Agricole in Paris in 2007.



Chalk Hill Sauvignon Blanc
(Chalk Hill, U.S.A.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

If the apex of Sauvignon Blanc production in France is the Loire Valley, then the benchmark in California is Chalk Hill—that northeast corner of the Russian River Valley where a thermal belt runs through its chalky white volcanic ash. And my summer “time to entertain” pick is the Chalk Hill Estate Sauvignon Blanc. This new age blend almost tastes like candied lemon peel with undertones of white peach and a hint of something tropical. Chalk Hill's complexity balances rich and creamy without the usual barnyard hay. Catalysts for its deliciousness include French oak barrel fermentation, sur lie aging and an artful blend of white grapes.

2009 Chalk Hill Sauvignon Blanc is the kind of Sauvignon Blanc that I love, filled with balanced mineral and grassy notes with hints of citrus and fruit, without being overwhelming. Barrel fermented and aged for 10 months, this is a complex wine filled with ripe peach, mango, lemon peel and passion fruit with layers of herbal and grassy notes.

♣ Wine Spectator (August 2012), 90 points

This pale yellow colored Sauvignon Blanc from Chalk Hill finished in second place in our big blind tasting. It opens with a honey and bees wax bouquet with a hint of lime. On the palate, this wine is medium bodied, balanced, and round. The flavor profile is a mild lemon with hints of green apple and cream soda. We also detected hints of white pepper and vanilla oak. The finish is dry and pleasantly refreshing.

Fresh aromas of lime zest, lemon curd, talc and bananas. Bright, tart flavors of lemon, lime, passion fruit, white pepper and touch of green bell pepper that are elegantly balanced with a creamy butteriness. Two Thumbs Way up.

Most California Sauv Blancs tend to be either towards the citrus/grapefruit side with high acidity or, if they from warmer regions, they are tropical and have notes of stone fruits. This one is made in the California Fume Blanc style (made popular by Robert Mondavi) as it is slightly tropical, with stone fruits, nectarines, peaches, mango, melon, fresh lemon, and canned pear aromas. I tend to prefer very crisp Sauv Blancs with a citrus/grapefruit profile and I have a dozen or so from different wineries in my cellar. However, I liked this one as an alternative and picked one up to serve side by side with another to demonstrate the range of styles. So, I liked this wine but I paid too much for it at $33 a bottle.

Aromatic nose of tropical fruit, white flowers, peach, and melon. Medium bodied, showing stone fruit and citrus notes with a long, full finish. Outstanding! Rating: Gold star.

The Estate Sauvignon Blanc, which more often than not receives scores of 90 points or above, is a clonal blend. These are extraordinarily rich, balanced wines, never suffering from green, unripe notes.



For a Splurge

A nice Sancerre will not be inexpensive. That said, a good choice should be the widely available Alphonse Mellot Sancerre "Edmond".

• That wine at 1000 Corks
• That wine at Wine Searcher
• Its Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.
• Its CellarTracker pages.

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