A while ago, I went to New Zealand house for a tasting of a wide range of New Zealand Sauvignons to celebrate NZ Sauvignon Blanc Day. I was looking forward to seeing the full capacity of the grape because aside from one (the Spy Valley Envoy which I love), at the time I had only tried sub £15 sauvignons, easy drinking everyday wines that have seen such popularity lately. It’s a grape whose winemaking is seeing some exciting experimentation, and I think the future will hold an interesting development for it.
The tasting view was incredible, 17 floors up overlooking the big smoke with a glass in hand made for a pretty great Friday afternoon. I tried some outstanding wines, and it showed the potential for the varietal, which caused me to reflect…
…Sauvignon Blanc. It’s the UK’s most popular grape. But what exactly is it?
It’s a green skinned grape that originates from the South of France, and in more recent years has hopped overseas to Chile, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and California. You may have heard of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé – the South of France home to Sauvignon, a region that is famous for its excellent dry white wines. It also has its heart in Bordeaux, where it produces good white table wines that are pretty great value.
It’s also important to remember its role in many of the finest dessert wines; for example Chateau d’Yquem, the world’s most famous one, which is produced of a blend of Semillon/Sauvignon blanc. In this form, the wines can fetch enormous prices. In a sense, it’s the pride and joy for the capacity of the grape. In 2011, a bottle of 1811 Chateau d’Yquem became the most expensive bottle of white wine ever sold, with the hammer going down at auction at £75,000. You could buy a house with that.
In its white wine form, the grape produces very fruit forward, green and ready-to-drink wines that have particularly high acidity. Its unique characteristics are the grass-forward, gooseberry and green vegetable aromas, which interestingly also reflects in the wine’s often green-shimmery appearance. It was one of the first grapes to be vinified using screw tops, for immediate drinking. (Generally) speaking, the wine does not particularly suit ageing, however in recent years some producers have been vinifying some interesting wines that show the potential for age. It’s a grape that really suits cool climates, hence its success in New Zealand and Chile.
In terms of aromas, when tasting sauvignon you can come across a lot of different hints and notes. New world unoaked sauvignons will demonstrate very fruity flavours of lime, kiwi, passionfruit and tropical fruits, with a heady, powerful edge. Meanwhile, French sauvignons will tend to focus more on the flinty, zesty, citrus-sy notes.
Tasting notes are a great opportunity to gauge whether the Sauvignon in question will be your style. It’s also a good idea to buy two very different ones, so you can taste and compare (preferably with some friends so you don’t end up finishing both on your own….)
Here are my two tasting notes of different styles:
The Ned Sauvignon Blanc, (New Zealand) – £10.99 in Waitrose
Zesty, with intense green grass notes on the nose. In the mouth, aromas of lime fruit, gooseberries and pineapple develop, with lingering herbaceous character.
Domaine Naudet Sancerre (France) – £12.99 in Waitrose
Flinty, mineral attack with citrus and hints of fresh grass. On the palate, vegetal aromas develop including bell pepper and asparagus notes.