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Sauvignon blanc, versatile white wine grape

By Wayne Crawford


Some grapes bring more to the table than others; sauvignon blanc is such a white grape.


With origins in the upper Loire Valley in France, sauvignon blanc was mentioned first in 1534. It is well known in Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume and, also, in Quincy and Reuilly AOCs, appellation d'origine controlee. This year, the French and the European Union are changing the AOC designation to AOP, appellation d’origine protégée. The new name is likely to occur across the EU, ending a classification that has been around since 1937. As with many coalitions, it is optional.


Sauvignon blanc, sauvignon fume or blanc fume is one of the parents – along with cabernet franc – that produced the famous red grape cabernet sauvignon. The parents of sauvignon blanc are chenin blanc, a white grape of the middle Loire Valley, and trousseau, the red grape of the Jura region in eastern France. All are geographically close and make the heritage more plausible. Interestingly, sauvage is the French word for wild.


Like many grapes, sauvignon blanc has other names. In California and Australia, an oak style first made by Robert Mondavi is called fume blanc and, in Germany and Austria, muskat-silvaner. Regardless of its name, it produces a crisp, fresh white wine with aromas and flavors that vary by growing regions and winemaker craft, and include herb, hay, celery stick, passion fruit, gooseberry, kiwi, white peach, grapefruit, lime and lemon citrus, melon, apricot, green bell pepper, and hints of flint or chalk.


When oaked, a vanilla flavor emerges and, if malolactic fermentation is used, it has a buttery flavor. When applied, a second bacteria-driven fermentation changes malic acid into a soft and creamy lactic acid. I generally think the Old World style, often produced in stainless steel containers, is more reductive, while the New World is bolder and more oxidative, with the use of oak barrel aging. In short, look for lots of fruit with high acidity and medium body; most are dry still wines.


I still remember tasting the 1985 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc with strong citrus flavors of grapefruit and lemon giving a crisp, fresh, lingering finish. This is the wine that made New Zealand famous for Sauvignon Blanc.


Not to be overlooked is the blending of sauvignon blanc and semillon to produce luscious sweet wines in Bordeaux, most notably in Graves and Sauternais, which include the sub-regions of Cerons, Barsac and Sauternes – all sweet white AOPs.


The challenge now is how to pair Sauvignon Blanc with food. In the “Garden of France” – the Loire Valley – producing 70 percent of the goat cheese in France, the ideal pairing is Crottin de Chavignol, a round-shaped, sharp goat cheese coated with herbs. Remember the old adage: First pair wine with local food – a good indicator of a symbiotic relationship. Other choices include white fish sautéed or lightly grilled, raw oysters, almost anything with fresh tomatoes, salad with goat cheese, cilantro, herbs and spices, peppers, grilled pork, fried or roasted chicken, turkey and asparagus. This is an all-purpose white wine that can complement almost any meal. One of my first choices with Mexican food with cilantro and, certainly, with ceviche is New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. I always have several bottles of Sauvignon Blanc in my cellar as a go-to wine, particularly with summer salads on the back porch.


The Big Canoe Wine Group blind-tasted nine wines for this article. Generally, these wines should be consumed young, while fruit-forward but well crafted Sauvignon Blanc can show great character at six to seven years.


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Ham Gadd hosts the Big Canoe Wine Group, while Sylvia Harnesberger looks on.

‘Wines Drinking Well Now’


Warwick 2009 Professor Black Sauvignon Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa, $21. A seven-year-old wine, light yellow in color, with citrus, lime and white flower aromas, this Sauvignon Blanc has a medium body with nice acidity. It is balanced, yet still fresh and crisp, with hints of minerality and spice to complement the citrus fruit. This top selection in the blind-tasting is available in a 2015 vintage at $21. Highly Recommended.


Pascal Jolivet 2010 Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc, France, $27.99. Light yellow in color with lime and pear aromas, this wine’s crisp and fresh fruit flavors dominate with a nice acidity. It offers a medium body with a lingering aftertaste and is, overall an excellent wine, typical for a Sancerre with a hint of minerality on the finish. It is available now in a 2014 vintage at $23. Highly Recommended.


Cupcake 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand, $12.99. With a light yellow color and aromas of lemon, limes and grapefruit, on the palate this wine offers Meyer lemon. It is a medium body wine with lime, grapefruit and pear flavors, showing a long finish with a round mouthfeel – an excellent wine. Best Buy.


Other wines worth considering include: Cloudy Bay 2015, New Zealand, $28; Kim Crawford 2015, New Zealand, $15; Brancott 2015, New Zealand, $9; Domaine Paul Buisse Touraine Sauvignon 2014, Lorie, France, $13.99; 2014 Chateau Ste. Michelle Horse Heaven Vineyard, Washington, $15.99; and Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc 2014, Sonoma County, Calif., $14.99.



‘Drink What You Like’


In my next article, less-known varietals that can heighten the wine-drinking experience will be showcased.


Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of wine, CSW, and a member of the Society of Wine Educators, American Wine Society and The Wine Scholar Guild.





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