New Zealand catapulted Sauvignon Blanc onto the scene, but this crisp, fresh grape is cultivated all over the world, with a variety of exciting wine styles. Roger Jones, owner of the Harrow at Little Bedwyn, reports.
Would you be surprised to know that Sauvignon Blanc originates from the Bordeaux region of France? Known as the wild white (grape), it grew naturally throughout south west France.
Sauvignon Blanc is, of course, now also widely cultivated in Chile, Australia, South Africa and California, with some top examples also emerging from Italy and even Turkey. But New Zealand is still riding high, having made it so popular with the masses.
While most Sauvignon Blanc wines are fermented in stainless steel and made to drink very quickly, some are aged in oak, have the addition of wild yeast, or are aged on their lees longer to encourage complexity and elegance.
"Crisp, elegant and fresh" is a trademark for this grape variety when made well. Climate can have a marked influence on the wine, going from aggressively grassy to sweetly tropical. In cooler areas, the wine can have more acidity and green flavours of grass and nettles with passion fruit and elderflower. In warmer climates, it can develop more tropical fruit notes with less acidity, and some grapefruit along with a more vanilla-like feel.
Classic matches are goat's cheese, fish and sashimi or sushi. One of my favorite matches
is sashimi of yellowfin tuna with wasabi curd cheese, spiced Halen Môn sea salt and perilla leaves, matched with Shaw & Smith's Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc.
High-quality, richly textured and elegant to some; others say that California's hot climate makes it difficult to keep the freshness in
the wines. At best, they are a perfect match for fine food. Good examples are Frogs Leap, Babcock Vineyards, Rutherford and Chalk Hill.
France For classical Sauvignon Blanc, France is well-known for two appellations, Sancerre and Pouilly Fume, which lie on opposite banks of the River Loire. But look further afield at three smaller appellations: Menetou Salon (eg, Henri Pelle), Reuilly (eg, Claude Lafon) and Quincy (eg, Domaine Lecomte), which offer excellent value. Top names in Sancerre include Vincent Pinard, Francois Cotat, Jean-Marie Bourgeois and Jean Max Roger, but there are many others. Some journalists have noted that over-production of Sancerre by some growers is diluting the quality, so stick with the good names.
Some exciting wines are coming from South Africa. They are characterised by lots of citrus and flinty undertones and purity. It is an exciting area and style, which is evolving fast, especially within the smaller vineyards. I suggest you look at Jordan Estate, Klein Constantia, Tokara Walker Bay, Spice Route and Paul Cluver.
Chile is not all about value and bulk; there are some very interesting high-quality wines being made here with lots of character and intensity. Be aware that 2012 was a very hot year and many Sauvignons suffered, but 2011 and 2013 were both great vintages. Top names include Casa Marin Cipreses, Calyptra, Laberinto, Vina Leyda and Casas del Bosque.
Australia is becoming known for a clean, food-friendly style. Top estates that offer a different style to New Zealand include West Cape Howe, Howard Park, Devils Lair, Willoughby Park, Belgravia of Orange, SC Pannell, Taltarni and, of course, leading the pack, Shaw & Smith from the Adelaide Hills.
Without question the area that has catapulted this grape variety onto the world scene. Marlborough is the traditional heartland, but consider other areas such as Martinborough and Nelson. Two styles dominate: the easy-drinking fresh, crisp, gooseberry style, and the more expressive style with some oak and wild yeasts. I would recommend the following wines for a cross-reference: Dog Point, Cloudy Bay Te Koko, Greywacke Wild Ferment, Craggy Range Avery Vineyard, Ata Rangi, Tinpot Hut and Matua.