SUNSHINE IN A GLASS A Sauvignon Blanc vineyard in Santa Ynez, California.
Freshly cut grass, zingy lime, passion fruit, the aroma of a herb garden; the pleasing characteristics and aromas that make up a charming glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Whether it is from the serener regions of South Africa, from the historical Loire Valley in France or from the new kid on the block—Marlborough in New Zealand—this scintillating wine has been cultivated to much triumph.
With its avant-garde acidity and sprightly aromatics, sauvignon blanc is one of the most prevalent white grape varieties in the world. However, like many varieties, its birthplace is associated with France.
Growth is widely nestled between the Loire Valley and Bordeaux, where the wine is often blended with another grape, Semillon. Don’t expect to find the words ‘Sauvignon Blanc’ written on the label of a French bottle though. In France, they expect you, the consumer, to know the handful of villages such as Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé where Sauvignon Blanc is grown and labelled accordingly.
The better wines from these villages, where they are subject to strict production laws, can command relatively higher prices in comparison to other parts of the world. Are they worth it? You bet. ‘Comte Lafonds Grand Cuvée’ Sancerre (€35-€40) or ‘La Poussie’ Sancerre (€22), available in Ireland, are outstanding wines showcasing the true traditional character of French Sauvignon.
Sauvignon Blanc from France is diametrically different to its New Zealand cousin. French Sauvignon exudes complexity, sophistication and style – the glamorous and smart one in the family. It relies on smoky minerality, high acid and herbaceousness.
Making waves across the many oceans is New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc. Wearing an Aloha shirt of tropical fruits, this energetic New World superstar has a fondness for robust acidity and a higher alcohol level than many of the French alternatives.
The wine region Marlborough in the South Island of New Zealand is well known, accounting for around 75 percent of the country’s annual Sauvignon Blanc production. Home to wines such as celebrated TV host Graham Norton’s ‘Invivo’ (€15) and the incomparable Cloudy Bay, which is overseen by the talented winemaker Tim Heath (€35), business in the Sauvignon Blanc Capital of Oceania is booming.
Unlike Chardonnay, we rarely see the use of oak influence in Sauvignon Blanc, whether it is from France, New Zealand or elsewhere in the wine world. However, in 1968, iconic Californian winemaker Robert Mondavi pioneered ‘Fumé Blanc’, which replaced the term Sauvignon Blanc when the use of oak was applied in areas such as the Napa Valley of California.
Sauvignon Blanc is a quintessential wine pairing for such foods as cheese (particularly goat’s cheese), green vegetables and light fish — or even as a thirst quencher in the garden on that rare sun-filled day in Mayo!
Philip Dunne is Head Sommelier at Ashford Castle, Cong. Trained by the Court of Master Sommeliers, he is part of the team voted the Best Wine Experience in Ireland 2016 at the Restaurant Association Awards in Ireland.