What’s in a Grape? Sauvignon Blanc

One of the most popular white grapes in the world, Sauvignon Blanc has many different expressions: from bone-dry and herbaceous to exuberant and tropical. Did you know these things about the grape variety? 

Sauvignon Blanc Profile

  • What are famous examples? Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, white Bordeaux, Fumé Blanc, New Zealand styles
  • What countries produce the most of it? France, New Zealand, Chile, United States, South Africa
  • Characteristic aromas: grass, hay, grapefruit, green pepper. Cool climate: asparagus, melon. Warm climate: flint, coconut, pineapple, gooseberry. Oak-aged: toast, smoke
  • Acidity: Medium to high
  • Alcohol: Medium

Where Does Sauvignon Blanc Come From?

Contrary to popular belief, Sauvignon Blanc originated not in Bordeaux, but in the Loire Valley. Here, you’ll still find the most sought-after renditions, such as Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. These wines are quite perfumed, with floral and citrus notes. The grape is also an important blending partner in Bordeaux, where it is made into white wine that often sees some oak-aging. Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire Valley are usually unoaked and fruit-forward in style, while white Bordeaux is more complex and has a bit of a nuttiness to it. 

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

From France, the grape was taken overseas, and it now prospers in many different regions. Sauvignon Blanc has a particular affinity for New Zealand, where it produces a distinct green pepper and grapefruit character. From the early 1980s, this zesty style was embraced by the market and helped establish the reputation of New Zealand wines. Nowadays, other regions are going after this style of the famous grape variety.

California Sauvignon Blanc

Oak-aged Sauvignon Blanc from California is another style to know. While white Bordeaux is often aged in older (used) oak barrels, iconic California winemaker Robert Mondavi created a more pronounced style in the 1960s. He named it Fumé Blanc, for it smoky, toasty character. In the United States, Fumé Blanc is an approved term for Sauvignon Blanc that has been aged in oak.

Sauvignon Blanc Is the Parent of Cabernet Sauvignon 

Sauvignon Blanc always showed a surprising similarity to the red grape Cabernet Sauvignon, due to the aromatics in these wines. It was in the 1990s that geneticists discovered that Cabernet Sauvignon was, in fact, the offspring of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. This was most likely the result of a spontaneous field crossing. Sauvignon Blanc, in turn, is the offspring of Savagnin Blanc (Just like Chenin Blanc, which makes Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc half siblings!). 

Sauvignon Blanc Is Now Considered an “International Grape”

A grape is considered an “international grape variety” when it has gained widespread popularity among consumers. You’ll find it in all or many of the major wine producing regions throughout the world. They are usually a touchstone for upcoming and growing wine regions. (If you’re keen on learning more about these, check out our post on “international” versus “native” grapes.)

Sauvignon Blanc gained international recognition when it became widely planted across New Zealand throughout the 1980s. Around this time, French and American producers started to compete with New Zealand and add their own stylistic touches. 

Sauvignon Blanc Can Be Made into Sparkling, Still and Sweet Wines 

Sparkling Styles

Sauvignon Blanc knows a few sparkling renditions, either oaked or unoaked, with the best examples coming out of the Loire Valley and New Zealand. Because of its aromatic character, Sauvignon Blanc can produce beautiful fruit-forward styles of sparkling wine, similar to the style of Prosecco. Blended with Chardonnay, sometimes even lightly oaked, it results in a style more similar to Champagne.

Still Styles

Still versions of the grape variety come in many different styles, depending on their growing climate. A cool climate Sauvignon Blanc will show more citrus and minerality, whereas one from a warmer climate will develop floral and tropical fruit notes.

Most Sauvignon Blanc is bottled on its own, but in France, it is often blended with Sémillon (two grape varieties that happen to be genetically close). Sémillon is more clean and balanced, and lends some structure to the aromatic, acid-driven Sauvignon Blanc.

Sweet Styles

Sweet wines made from Sauvignon Blanc are typically touched by noble rot, or Botrytis cinerea. This is a fungus that shrivels the berries and helps concentrate the sugars in the grapes. There are only a few places in the world where climatic conditions are perfect for Botrytis. Sauternes in the Bordeaux region is the most famous example. For sweet, botrytized wines, Sauvignon Blanc is most often blended with Sémillon. 

Sauvignon Blanc Has an Appropriate Name

“Sauvignon” is derived from the French word “sauvage”, meaning “wild”. Most likely, this is because the shape of the leaves is similar to those of the wild grapevine. Sauvignon Blanc vines are indeed quite vigorous and can grow out of control if not held in check. Left to its own devices, the vine could survive despite abandon. 

“Untamed” and “wild” can also be used to describe Sauvignon Blanc’s flavours. They can range from a flinty minerality to crisp citrus notes, florals and even herbaceous vegetal notes. Poorly made Sauvignon Blancs will taste vegetal, a bit like canned asparagus. Vegetal qualities are typical if the wine is made from under-ripe grapes, or if the vines were allowed to grow out of control. These tasting notes can also occur if the grapes didn’t receive proper sunlight for photosynthesis. 

Taste Amazing Sauvignon Blancs with WineCollective

Fortunately, WineCollective members will never receive these vegetal Sauvignon Blancs in their packages. All wine that goes into our monthly deliveries is carefully curated by our team of wine experts. Each month, they taste hundreds of different bottles, so you don’t have to. Only the best renditions of famous and less famous grapes varieties make it through their strict selection process. Have a look at the Sauvignon Blancs in our store! Become a member today to receive these amazing wines on your doorstep each month, with an informative guide to boot. Plus, you’ll be get great discounts in our member store – so you can keep exploring the world of wine.