Sauvignon Blanc does one thing overwhelmingly well—it stands out in a crowd. Of all the world’s wines, there’s no mistaking a pure Sauvignon Blanc [SOH-vee-nyawn BLAHNGK] for any other wine (unless, sadly, as some winemakers now make it, in imitation of an oaky Chardonnay).
What It’s Like = Where It’s Grown
Sauvignon Blanc from a cool climate—its most classic rendition—is possessed of a notably acidic edge and the memorably piercing aroma of one or more of these: gooseberries (admittedly, not something with which most Americans are familiar), grapefruit rind, lime zest, fresh-cut green bell peppers or passion fruit.
Riper Sauvignon Blanc exists, too, especially from warmer grape growing regions (many sections of California or South Africa, for example, and most areas in South America). From these spots, its acidity is somewhat diminished, while its wines sport aromas and flavors of white peach, ripe melon, even apricot.
However, if Sauvignon Blanc is overgrown on heavy soils, it will have neither of these aromas or flavors and come off nearly aqueous.
Even on proper soils, though, vineyard workers must curb Sauvignon’s aggressive nature (its name comes from the French sauvage, “wild”) by keeping vine growth in check, else the wine turn out strongly herbaceous, even rank.
Most producers ferment and age their Sauvignon Blancs in stainless steel to accentuate the wine’s crisp, zesty, bracing qualities, while a few barrel-ferment the wine. Malolactic fermentation* is rare, and barrel-aging usually is limited to a few months’ duration.
Sauvignon Blanc is the foundation of some of the world’s most distinctive, yet favored, wines—Sancerre perhaps tops the list, but Pouilly-Fumé has a strong following, as does New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (there, simply called something along the lines of “Sav Blawhnk”) and many a white Graves, where it is often fermented in wood.
In Bordeaux, it contributes between 10% and 40% toward blends with Sémillon in the sweet winemaking areas of Sauternes, Barsac and such outlying districts as Loupiac. While Sémillon clearly dominates, Sauvignon Blanc’s acidity adds a much-needed freshness to these unctuous, sweet wines.
By and large, most Sauvignon Blanc isn’t made to have legs and, if aged, quickly loses its zesty freshness. Some Sauvignons, on the other hand—the odd Sancerre, many classy Graves whites, and some high-end Kiwis—can develop, with time, creamy textures and delicious nutty aromas and tastes.
At table, Sauvignon Blanc, with its acidity and freshness, is an obvious choice for seafood, from plain to elaborate preparations. It serves well for a match with rich, even creamy and fatty, dishes because of the same cleansing, bracing acidity.
Of all food and Sauvignon pairings, however, perhaps the perfect one is a Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc with fresh or aged goat’s cheese. The high acidity in both the cheese and the wine stand as foils to each other and make for pure deliciousness.
*A second fermentation that changes and softens the wine’s malic acid (from malum, Latin for apple) into lactic acid (like that in milk).