Enthusiast’s Guide to Sauvignon Blanc
If you’ve come to love the refreshing, subtly savory taste of Sauvignon Blanc then you deserve to know more about it. There are more than 10 countries that specialize in Sauvignon Blanc and each region offers a unique taste. A little understanding of the different styles and the history of this grape will help you find awesome Sauvignon Blanc wines on your own.
Need to know the general taste and food pairing with Sauvignon Blanc?
Check out the Beginner’s Guide to Sauvignon Blanc to get familiarized with the basics.
Sauvignon Blanc Family Tree
The name Sauvignon is from the French word Sauvage meaning “wild.” It originated in the Loire Valley of France and is a parent grape of Cabernet Sauvignon (the other is Cabernet Franc). Sauvignon Blanc is at least 500 years old and is the child grape of a rare French variety called Savagnin. You can still find Savagnin wines made in the tiny region of Jura in Eastern France close to the border of Switzerland.
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Stylistic Differences of Sauvignon Blanc
There are 2 schools of thought when it comes to Sauvignon Blanc wines:
Stainless Steel Sauvignon Blanc
The most dominant style–and the one you’re most familiar with–is unoaked Sauvignon Blanc. Unoaked Sauvignon Blancs are fermented in stainless steel or concrete vats and are known for their high acidity and bold herbaceous aromas of lime, grapefruit and gooseberry. This is the style that has made Sauvignon Blanc en vogue, but the other style is what commands the highest bottle prices.
Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc
The other style of Sauvignon Blanc is barrel fermented and aged on dead yeast bits called lees which give the wine a richer creamier texture. A few producers will also age the wine in oak, adding additional flavors of lemon curd, creme brulee, butter and lemon oil from oak-aging and oxidation. You’ll find this style is more commonly a blend with a little Semillon to add candied lemon flavors and more oily texture. Overall, barrel-aged Sauvignon Blanc is a rare specialty and definitely worth tasting if you already have a healthy Sauvignon Blanc fetish.
Sauvignon Blanc Regional Differences
While the production methods mentioned above affect the core style of a Sauvignon Blanc wine, the effect of regional growing conditions also play into the flavors. Each region has their own typical style, or wine ‘typicity.’ Below you’ll find a brief overview of typicity in Sauvignon Blanc from 8 countries.
France is the largest producer of Sauvignon Blanc and it grows mostly in the Loire Valley.
- Primary flavors of lime, green grass, chalky minerals and honeydew melon with razor sharp acidity and very light body.
- High-end wines from this area offer richer fruit flavors of white peach, fennel, lemon grass and ruby red grapefruit with good acidity, slightly higher alcohol levels and light-medium body.
- Primary flavors of lemon pith, grass and gravelly minerals with high acidity and a simple light body.
- High-end wines come primarily from Pessac-Leognan and offer up flavors of kiwi, lemon curd, lemongrass, honeyed grapefruit, with a subtle nutty-creamy texture from oak-aging.
South West and Languedoc-Roussillon
- Primary flavors of grapefruit, passion fruit, and lemons with moderately high acidity and light-medium body.
- The Southwest and Languedoc-Roussillon of France offers some of the most outstanding value in France for Sauvignon Blanc where it’s commonly blended with Ugni Blanc (the Cognac grape) or Colombard. You’ll find these wines released mainly under the Cotes de Gascogne and Pays d’Oc IGP.
New Zealand’s most planted grape is Sauvignon Blanc and the majority of the vineyards can be found in the Northern part of the South Island in Marlborough. New Zealand is a cool climate country.
- Primary flavors of passionfruit, green pepper, lemongrass and gooseberry with razor sharp acidity and a weightier light-medium body (that often has a tiny touch of residual sugar to add this weightiness).
Most of the best Sauvignon Blanc vineyards lie in the “Costa areas” of Chile which are the cool valleys close to the ocean. You’ll find that most Chilean Sauvignon Blanc will be labeled with the Central Valley region, which is Chile’s largest agricultural area. The region is dominated by large producers, and while this has a milieu of negative connotations it also means wines are affordable and moderately consistent year-after year.
- Primary flavors of grass, lime juice, green banana and pineapple with juicy high acidity and clearly distinguishable salinity.
Despite the fact that South Africa has a dry warm climate, the region produces quite a sizable amount of high-quality Sauvignon Blanc. Most of the value wines are unoaked and labeled with the overarching Western Cape region. Within the Western Cape region there are several smaller, more distinct areas including Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Elgin (among others) that are known for producing barrel-fermented/aged Sauvignon Blancs with extreme power and finesse.
- Primary flavors of green herbs, guava, and green pepper with light-medium body and acidity.
- High-end wines offer up flavors of beeswax, jasmine flowers, honeysuckle, Meyer lemon and nut oils.
Many regions within the US grow Sauvignon Blanc. There are two areas most known for it and they are North Coast, CA (which includes the AVA’s of Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino) and Washington State.
- Primary flavors of white peach, grapefruit, and honeydew melon with medium body, medium acidity and moderate alcohol.
- Primary flavors of honeydew melon, pineapple and green apple with light-medium body, medium-high acidity and moderate alcohol.
- Primary flavors of lime, grapefruit, and gravelly minerals with light body and high acidity
Australia overall is a hot climate region, but there are cooler climate areas within Australia suitable for growing good Sauvignon Blanc.
Adelaide Hills and South Australia
- Primary flavors of kiwi, honeydew, and white peach with medium-high acidity and light body.
- This region is a cooler climate growing area close to Barossa Valley in South Australia.
Western Australia (including Margaret River)
- Primary flavors of chervil, bell pepper, passion fruit and gravelly minerals with high acidity and light body.
- High-end producers will use oak to add creaminess and texture.
The majority of Spanish Sauvignon Blanc grows in La Mancha where most is used for value-driven bulk wines. However, there are a few pockets of quality producers found all over the country.
Castilla y Leon
- Primary flavors of bell pepper, honeydew melon, and dusty minerality with medium-high acidity and medium-light body.
- Within the overarching region of Castilla y Leon, Reuda produces high quality Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo wines (Verdejo has a very similar taste to Sauvignon Blanc).
The majority of Sauvignon Blanc in Italy is produced in Friuli-Venezia Giulia and usually labeled as “Sauvignon.”
- Primary flavors of sweet gooseberry, white peach, pear, and orange blossom with razor sharp acidity and light lean body.
Sauvignon Blanc Taste Challenge
One of the best ways to sharpen your understanding of wines is to compare wines from different regions side-by-side. Pick 2–3 regions mentioned in this article and seek out Sauvignon Blanc wines from them. Yes, it might sound ludicrous to buy and open 2–3 bottles at once, but keep in mind you won’t drink them all in one night (well, hopefully not) and you can store them for about 2 weeks in your fridge with a vacuum-pump. When you do this, be sure to take notes –you can use one of our tasting mats to help you– and you’ll be surprised at how the subtitles of each region will suddenly jump out of the glass!