Sauvignon Blanc is one of the most popular grapes in the world and its fortunes are only growing. The white grape can be found in the vineyards of wine regions across the planet, grown in various ways to produce a range of crisp and dry varietal wines with trademark aromas of green fruit and musk. It is grown in France, Chile, Canada, New Zealand, California, Australia and South Africa, to name but a few. Sauvignon Blanc has enjoyed a recent resurgence as an accessible alternative to Chardonnay.
It originated in the Loire Valley and Bordeaux regions, and the name – sauvage means wild and blanc means white – suggests its roots lie in wild grapes. Alongside Cabernet Franc, it is also a parent of Cabernet Sauvignon. Sauvignon Blanc is heavily influenced by its place of origin. In cooler climates, it produces wines that are high in acidity, with notes of green and tropical fruits and floral notes. Where it is warmer, there are stronger tropical fruit tastes, with notes of grapefruit. It is usually consumed in its youth, and there are only a few examples of it ageing nicely without gaining vegetal flavours, such as asparagus and peas.
The grapes bud late and ripen early, performing best in climates that are warm but not too hot, otherwise the grapes ripen too much and the flavours are blunted. Global warming has meant that farmers have had to start harvesting earlier than usual in some places. In France, Sauvignon Blanc grows in a maritime climate in Bordeaux and a more continental climate in the Loire Valley. It is also popular throughout in North America, New Zealand, Brazil, Chile and Australia, where the wine can often have more notes of tropical fruit. The soil type also make a big difference to Sauvignon Blanc. The richness and complexity seen in the wines from the chalk and Kimmeridgian marl soils of Sancerre and Pouilly is in contrast to the floral and mineral notes of Loire’s gravelly soil, and those from Bordeaux are fruitier and longer lasting due to the flint-rich earth. The ageing process also determines how the wine will eventually taste. Oak aging is popular in much of France, which can neutralise some of the acidity. Sancerre, on the other hand, maintains its sharpness through use of stainless steel. Loire, which produces perhaps the cleanest Sauvignon Blanc, also shuns oak. Sauvignon Blanc is also used in a variety of blends, such as in Bordeaux, where it works alongside Ugni Blanc, Muscadelle and Sémillon, and in northern Rhône, where it is often paired with Tressallier.
Sauvignon Gris is a mutation of Sauvignon Blanc that changes the grape colour light pink, which is the reason it is also known as Sauvignon Rosé. The grapes have more sugar than Sauvignon Blanc, and most noticeably the wines have a richer taste and a less powerful aroma, with notes of mango and passion fruit. Sauvignon Gris was once relatively widespread but was heavily affected by the 19th century phylloxera outbreak, partly due, no doubt, to its small yields. It is gradually regaining its popularity in Bordeaux as well as in Chile.