As one of the fastest expanding variety in the last 20 years, Sauvignon Blanc has made it to the top 10 grape with 125,000 ha planted throughout the world. It actually holds the number 3 position amongst white grapes behind Airén & Chardonnay. Here is where it grows, how it's made, how it tastes and where to find some if you're in this part of the world...
Sauvignon Blanc's botanic birthplace (France) still has the most planting with 28,000 ha, followed by New Zealand, 20,000 ha; Chile, 15,000 ha; South Africa, 9,000 ha; Moldova and the USA each grow a little under 7,000 ha; followed by Romania, Australia, Spain & Italy and another 20 countries.
With such remarkable expansion, you might think that Sauvignon Blanc is not too fussy about where it grows? au contraire: Climate; especially, is very important: As a late budder and early ripener, Sauvignon Blanc doesn't require much heat. Recent research on rootstocks, clones, canopy management and fungal diseases management greatly improved the reliable production of healthy crop. Yield may vary between 40 and 55 hl per ha in Bordeaux; a little over 60 hl per ha in Sancerre to sometimes over 100 hl/ ha in Chile & California.
Whether in continental Sancerre & Pouilly fumé or in maritime Bordeaux or Marlborough or Coastal San Antonio & Casablanca, the slow ripening of grapes seems to produce the most pronounced aromas. Picking time is crucial to strike the right balance between the desired aromatic profile on one side and the sugar/acid equilibrium on the other.
In the winery, a little skin contact and cooler fermentation temperature help the finished wine retain the explosive fruity character. This is perhaps more typical of a new world style. Warmer temperature (like in Sancerre or Bordeaux) will give less exuberant fruity aromas that show more terroir and minerality. A bit of lees contact is thought to protect against oxidation. Many winemakers play with blends from different plots or picked at different ripeness level, which adds textural dimension and aromatic complexity. Few winemakers use oak, except perhaps in Bordeaux where Sauvignon is often blended in Sémillon or in the Fumé Blanc - a style launched by Robert Mondavi in California.
In the glass, unlike its daddy Savagnin, Sauvignon Blanc is clearly an aromatic grape variety; and it does share methoxypyrazines or "green" elements with its red baby, Cabernet Sauvignon. The most common aroma descriptors for Sauvignon Blanc are herbaceous in nature (capsicum or green bell pepper, grass, foliage, dill, sage, asparagus) or of green fruits (gooseberry, lime, lemon green apple). On the riper side, it can show stone fruit (nectarine, peach) or tropical notes (papaya blossom, passion fruit) - the thiols. On the palate, Sauvignon Blanc based wines are dry, with crisp, zesty acidity and moderate body.
If you are looking to celebrate Sauvignon Blanc's International Day (the first Friday in May) options are almost endless, and you don't have to spend a fortune on Haut-Brion, Smith Haut-Lafitte or Cloudy Bay: Wine Gallery brings interesting Sauvignon Blanc-based Bordeaux such as "Y" by Château Yquem or l'Abeille de Fieuzal (Pessac-Léognan). From Sancerre, I find their Domaine Vacheron of better value than the Didier Dagueneau's Pouilly fumé Silex, but they are both great expression of the Loire. They also bring Greywake and Pegasus Bay. Wine Garage brings a rare Burgundian Sauvignon Blanc from Saint Bris "Corps de Garde" by biodynamic producer Domaine Goisot as well as other delicious examples from less well known provenance such as Quincy or the Weinviertel. The California Wine Company brings noteworthy examples by Cakebread, Caymus and Duckhorn. Valentine has a Chilean example by Bouchon (an iconic producer in Maule) as well as a classic Château Carbonnieux from Pessac-Léognan, but other delicious Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand and Chile are found everywhere.
To learn more about grape varieties, enroll our next WSET Level 2 Award in wines and to learn more about French Wines, book your seat to our upcoming French Wine Scholar .
Anderson K. & Nelgen S. (2020) Which Winegrape Varieties Grow Where? A Global Empirical Picture Revised Edition Adelaide: University of Adelaide Press Clarke, O. & Rand, M. (2015) Grapes & Wines. New York: Sterling Epicure