Like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc is a grape that is expressed in many different styles from all over the world. In general, Sauvignon Blanc is a citrusy, grassy white wine with a good dose of acidity (making it often times tarty) and fresh tropical flavors. Each of these components is emphasized more or less in the various styles throughout the world, and some regions, particularly France and New Zealand, have become known for the unmistakable characteristics in their Sauvignon Blanc.
We’ll start with French Sauvignon Blanc, which is the birth place of the grape. In France, Sauvignon Blanc is (primarily) grown in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley including Sancerre where the grape really thrives. As I mentioned in the France section, Sauvignon Blanc in Bordeaux is frequently blended with Semillon, a practice you are seeing become more popular in other regions of the world including Napa Valley (Duckhorn’s Sauvignon Blanc is one of my favorite of these California blends, $24).
Most of the Sauvignon Blanc in France falls into the more elegant of executions, floral and earthy with mineral undertones and a clean crispness to the flavor. This runs a little differently than we will see from California and New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. You’ll want to make sure to try a few white Bordeaux, which are relatively inexpensive (starting around $12) and move into some of the Loire Valley wines which start closer to $15. And keep in mind that Sauvignon Blanc is also an important component to French sweet dessert wines including those from Sauternes.
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
Now let’s jump down to New Zealand where Sauvignon Blanc takes on entirely different characteristics, particularly in its famed Marlborough region. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is vibrant and instantly recognizable for its high acidity and powerful citrus flavor. These Marlborough wines also start around $10 in the majority of wine shops with most bottles I see hovering around $15-20.
Some names to note are Kim Crawford (perhaps the most well known in the US), Cloudy Bay, Brancott and Nobilo (a decent one for under $10). Marlborough is one of those regions where you really can’t go wrong, and we’re even seeing other New Zealand areas represented in wine shops including the excellent Hawke’s Bay and Martinborough. Jump in, explore New Zealand wines and see where it takes you.
Great Sauvignon Blanc can also be found in the US, primarily in California, but also in Washington State (Chateau Ste. Michelle offers a good Horse Heaven Hills Sauvignon Blanc for around $12). I gravitate toward many of the Napa producers which are good places to start, such as the aforementioned Duckhorn (around $22), Markham ($13) or Honig ($15).
On the higher end, one of my favorite Sauvignon Blancs comes from Cliff Lede in Stag’s Leap (around $40; their reds are also a personal favorite). Russian River Valley in Sonoma also kicks out some good wines such as the Frei Brothers which is around $13. Note also, that certain places in California will refer to Sauvignon Blanc as Fume Blanc, even though they are the same grape.
California Sauvignon Blanc is a little tamer on the acidity and toned down a tad in its flavor. It still remains very citrusy (lemon, lime, grapefruit), but a touch of oak keeps the wines a little more mild mannered, and in my opinion a tad more food friendly.
And finally, if you see Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, pick some up. It’s more representative of the European style of Sauvignon Blanc, and perhaps a bit more rustic, but for $8-10 a bottle, it’s generally a solid buy.
Your Sauvignon Blanc Check List:
– Sauvignon Blanc from France’s Loire Valley
– White Bordeaux with Sauvignon Blanc
– Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre (France)
– Sauternes dessert wine (sometimes you can find these in the smaller 375ml bottles)
– New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
– New Zealand Hawke’s Bay Sauvignon Blanc
– Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
– Sonoma Valley Sauvignon Blanc
Fast Fact: Screw caps seal 75 percent of Australian wines and 93 percent of New Zealand wines.