Crisp, cool Sauvignon Blancs are among the most consistently satisfying summer wines, perfect for pairing with light fare like salads or seafood, or as standalone sippers to enjoy with a bit of afternoon sunshine. Best of all, good bottles, as well as good bargains, are seldom hard to find. Among white wine varieties, only Chardonnay is more ubiquitous. And Sauvignon Blanc, typically lighter bodied and more acidic than Chardonnay, is a much more refreshing seasonal option.
From France to New Zealand
Now commonly used in wine producing regions throughout the world, Sauvignon Blanc originated in France, and came to prominence in the white wines of Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. In Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc has long been blended with Sémillon to make superb mineral driven dry whites (Château Malartic-Lagravière is a notable producer), as well as (with a bit of Muscadelle) the botrytized sweet wines of Sauternes. And despite the lofty reputation garnered by SB producers in New Zealand and elsewhere in recent years, many wine lovers still believe the grape reaches its ultimate expression in the flinty, herbaceous wines made in the neighboring Loire Valley communes of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé.
New Zealand certainly played a large role in popularizing the grape, however. The country exploded onto the international wine scene in the late 1980s and early 90s, with a series of stunning wines made from Sauvignon Blanc. Led by Marlborough based wineries like Cloudy Bay. New Zealand’s SBs were characterized by their vibrant flavors and aromas, which ranged from herbal notes to intense citrus and tropical fruit.
Former Cloudy Bay winemaker Kevin Judd is now producing excellent Sauvignon Blancs under his Greywacke label. — Photo courtesy of Greywacke
Decades later, Marlborough, a wine region located on the northeastern end of the South Island, continues to produces some of the world’s best Sauvignon Blanc, and American consumers will have no difficulty tracking down the latest offerings from standard bearers such as Villa Maria, Kim Crawford, and Greywacke (made by former Cloudy Bay winemaker Kevin Judd).
Legendary winemaker Robert Mondavi led the California Sauvignon Blanc charge in the late 1960s, marketing the grape variety under the name Fumé Blanc. Today, visitors to California wine country will find excellent examples of Sauvignon (or Fumé) Blanc at wineries throughout Napa and Sonoma (Chalk Hill Estate is a mandatory stop), as well as in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County.
In addition to large selection of California wines readily available at groceries and specialty stores, wine shoppers will also want to explore the tremendous quality, and tremendous value, characteristic of so many current Chilean Sauvignon Blancs. The cool, coastal climate of Chile's Casablanca Valley, located about 50 miles northwest of the capital city of Santiago, provides first-rate conditions for the cultivation of SB grapes.
Pairings and Tips
Winemaking styles vary from country to country, of course, but generally speaking Sauvignon Blanc’s herbal notes make it a great pairing with veggies and salads, and it’s also a fine complement to oysters, scallops, shrimp, flakier fish, and poultry. Cheese, particularly chèvre, is a traditional pairing with Sancerre, and Humboldt Fog, another goat cheese, goes swimmingly with most California SBs.
Although more winemakers are experimenting with secondary (malolactic) fermentation and oak aging, processes more typically used with Chardonnay, the vast majority of Sauvignon Blancs are still tart, refreshing, and meant to be enjoyed immediately. They are also among the best budget-friendly wines around, with a plethora of quality options available in the $10-20 range.