Sauvignon Blanc | From Crowd Pleaser to Complex Pleasures

Harry Lambourne
4th October 2023

Sauvignon Blanc is everywhere. It is one of the world’s most beloved grape varieties and has blessed us with great wines from all corners of the globe. They include the tropical heavy offerings from Marlborough in New Zealand, to the oaked Bordeaux blends. The styles and flavours are rich and diverse.

Whether you love the quaffable stuff that sits at under £10 at the supermarket, or seek out aged wines that rise well above three figures – this article will have something for you!

We will look at the structural characteristics of this grape variety, as well as the wealth of different aromas and flavours you can experience with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Then, we will take you through some of the key regions to look out for if you’re looking to expand your horizons of Sauvignon Blanc.

Let’s dive into the world of Sauvignon Blanc now.

The Sauvignon Blanc Grape Variety

Sauvignon Blanc Grapes
Sauvignon Blanc Grapes

Sauvignon Blanc whichever way you press it, is a deeply aromatic grape variety with a blisteringly high acidity. The grape variety, (which is a crossing between Traminer and Chenin Blanc) is early ripening and therefore well suited to a cool climate where the temperatures help to retain the fresh characteristics associated with this grape variety.

You can see the grape variety thrive in cooler regions such as the Loire Valley and Marlborough, in New Zealand. Yet, there is potential for it to thrive in warmer climates such as parts of South Africa, Australia and the maritime climate of Bordeaux.

The coolest climates impart herbaceous flavours with strong notes of green fruits. Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc, such as those of Sancerre, often show notes of green apple, asparagus and touches of wet pebbles.

The Loire Valley is also home to Pouilly-Fumé where very measured amounts of oak may be used to impart a smokey flavour. You can see this in Californian examples of Sauvignon Blanc as well. It will be labelled as Fumé Blanc.

Then, over in Marlborough, more ripe notes come into play. This is due to long hours of strong sunlight. It aids ripening and the character of the fruit flavours changes. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is closely associated with notes of gooseberry, elderflower, grapefruit and passionfruit. Herbaceous qualities can also come through on the nose as well.

We’ve mentioned Australia and Bordeaux earlier and in these regions, you’ll generally get Sauvignon Blanc as part of a blend. In both the Margaret River and Pessac-Léognan regions respectively, Sauvignon Blanc is combined with Sémillon. These wines are barrel fermented. You’ll often see them aged on lees with some use of MLF as well to add body, complexity, texture and a spicy, creamy style of wine.

These winemaking techniques are quite unique to the world of white wine. Generally, with aromatic white grape varieties, new oak ageing will not be practised. Aromatic white grape varieties tend to be aged in stainless steel or huge old oak barrels, (such as those in Alsace). This is to preserve the delicate aromatic notes. These can be lost in heavily oaked wines. Yet, it can work well for some high quality Sauvignon Blanc which have a sufficiently high level of flavour to not be lost to the oak.

Now, we will touch upon some of the regions mentioned above in greater detail and see how the terroir within them affects the Sauvignon Blanc in your glass.

Old World Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc is grown throughout the old world. It is a wonderfully popular grape variety. You can find it in Northern Italy, in places such as Veneto. It also has began to garner success in Northern Spain. Marqués de Riscal has been instrumental in establishing Sauvignon Blanc in the Rueda region of Spain. Beyond that, Austria has seen this grape thrive, as areas like Steiermark and Burgenland have built up a reputation for world class high-acid white wine, (similar to the classic Grüner Veltliner).

Yet, it is France that boasts the best of the best in the old world. The Loire Valley and Bordeaux styles have both garnered global acclaim for their quality. Let’s look into these regions in greater detail.

Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc
Loire River at Sunset
The Loire River At Sunset

The Loire Valley is also known as the ‘Garden of France’. It is a huge areas which spans 124000 acres, across three separate sub-regions. Each one has its own unique terroir and geography. It is in the Eastern Loire Valley that we find high-quality Sauvignon Blanc.

The Eastern Loire is a staggering step inland from the Western Loire which sits on the coast. The Eastern Loire is around 150 miles south of Paris. The two primary regions which are known for Sauvignon Blanc are Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre. The wines of these regions are refined and elegant creations with an unmistakable minerality and these piercing notes of flint, which sit alongside tart green fruit notes and herbaceous flair.

The wines of these areas are special, but they often come with a price tag that puts it outside of most peoples comfort zone. If you’re looking for a taste of the Loire Valley, but want something more affordable, then look for Quincy and Reuilly. These are also responsible for some high-quality Sauvignon Blanc.

Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc

Next up is Bordeaux. Bordeaux is one of the world’s most esteemed wine regions, but it may be more closely associated with red wine. Heady blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominate both supermarket shelves and the cellars of wealthy collectors. Yet, along the Left Bank of Bordeaux, which sits to the west of the Dordogne River, you can find wonderful pockets of still white wine. The two top regions are Graves and within that you have Pessac-Léognan. In both of these areas you can find stunning blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon.

Bordeaux Wine Map | French Red Wine | French White Wine
Map of the Bordeaux Wine Region

These areas have rich gravel soil, which aids ripening. This leads to fully concentrated powerful wines that seem far away from the austere and racy Sauvignon Blanc in the Loire Valley. Body and complexity is also given to the Bordeaux wines through the inclusion of Sémillon. As we touched upon, earlier these facts combine to mean that you’ll often find these wines aged in oak. You’ll get a wonderful mix of citrus flavours, (such as lime and grapefruit), as well as notes of melon and peach. Then, green bell pepper, grass and minerality is common. Finally, through oak ageing expect smokey notes of cedar and vanilla.

New World Sauvignon Blanc

As with the Old World Winemaking Nations, Sauvignon Blanc crops up across the New World. Almost every single wine-making country will have some form of Sauvignon Blanc. The grape variety regularly slips into vineyards in many different styles. This can include simple everyday table wines and powerful, complex creations.

Some of the best examples are found in places such as California, South Africa, or even the Casablanca Valley in Chile.

In California, they can be the smokey concoctions called Fumé Blanc, which seek to emulate the wines of France. It also appears in smaller numbers in the Washington wine region, (although it is less popular than Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Gris). It has found success in many pockets of South Africa. Old Vine Sauvignon Blanc thrives in Constantia, while in the Cape South Coast areas of Elgin and Elim are renowned for pungently herbaceous and fresh expressions of this grape variety.

These areas are well worth a go, if you’re keen to try more Sauvignon Blanc. However, we think there are two regions in the New World which sit above all else. They are Marlborough in New Zealand and the Margaret River in Australia.

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

New Zealand is relatively new to the global wine world. It wasn’t until the 1980s that it really burst onto the scene following some stunning wines from the famous Cloudy Bay. Today, everyone knows New Zealand wine and it is Sauvignon Blanc for which it is most well known, (although outstanding Pinot Noir is also produced here).

Cloudy Bay Winery
Cloudy Bay Winery – A Trailblazer In New Zealand Wine

New Zealand is split into two. The North and South Islands. Sauvignon Blanc does pop up across the whole country, but it is in the cooler South Island that it really thrives. In particular, it is the Marlborough wine region which is the backbone of the New Zealand wine industry, as it produces 70% of all the wine in New Zealand.

The Sauvignon Blanc from here has changed the game. It provided a unique taste which is really different from anything else people had experienced previously. Tropical fruit flavours dominate the palate. You’ll often get pronounced notes of melon, mango, papaya and passionfruit. The more acidic and herbaceous notes are also still present. Tasting notes which aren’t uncommon include grass, wild herbs, watercress, green olives and asparagus. While fruit flavours of green apple, lime, grapefruit and gooseberry often shine through.

Australia Sauvignon Blanc

Once more, Sauvignon Blanc appears across the island of Australia and Tasmania to the south.

The latter harnesses the grape variety into fresh and vibrant wines with biting acidity. It will also be used in the production of various styles of sparkling wine. These wines will often be fermented in stainless steel to avoid losing the varietal characteristics. If winemakers opted to go through secondary fermentation in the bottle, as they do with Crémant and Champagne, the winemaking practices would overpower the delicate notes of the Sauvignon Blanc grapes.

However, across most of the country, it is often too hot for it to truly excel. Enter, the Margaret River in Western Australia.

This area has a maritime climate, as it sits on the Western Coast near the city of Perth. This means it benefits from cooling ocean breezes. It also has soil with a very high gravel content. This maritime location on gravel soil is very similar to Bordeaux. It should then come as no surprise that you can find riveting Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon blends, in a similar style to Bordeaux.

However, you can also find more fruit-forward and fresh examples of white wine here as well. There’s ample hours of sunshine and a long-ripening season which is not dissimilar to the New Zealand area.

It is not all sunshine and good wines though. This area is often hampered by pests, more specifically birds. The local silvereye birds have been a menace in Western Australia. Winemakers have to deploy nets to stop the birds, otherwise they have been known to eat 60% of the crops on a given year.

Silvereye Birds
Silvereye Birds – A Certified Pest Of Western Australia Wine

That has been our deep dive into all things Sauvignon Blanc. It is one of the world’s great grape varieties. There is heaps of simple table wine which carries the Sauvignon Blanc name, but beyond that there is so much more.

If you want something special then look to Pouilly-Fumé and Pessac-Léognan. Yet, you can find more affordable examples on the other side of the world. Marlborough manages to produce world class wine for a fraction of the price. Each expression will present itself in a new and exciting way, so we encourage you to get out and try them.

If you’ve enjoyed this read and want to keep learning about some of the world’s best white wines, be sure to check out some of our other articles below:


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