SAUVIGNON BLANC – CROSS COUNTRY COMPARISON
Ubiquitous and known to all as the beloved “Sauvignon Blanc”, this grape grown widely, has evolved uniquely in different continents due to factors such as differing soils, climate, location, viticultural methods and environmental considerations. To top it, distinct wine making styles have taken them into expressing particular flavours, styles and aromas unique to every region. Isn’t that amazingly beautiful….at the same time so amazingly challenging for Wine reviewers such as myself, when I am given the same grape from different regions for a blind tasting and asked to judge where each originates from!
New World Wines have played a major role in commonizing this grape and bringing its qualities out to the open. However this grape is far being from common, as we will find out shortly. France was the original home of Sauvignon Blanc, Bordeaux being the great ancestor but unknown to many, Loire Valley (areas of Sancerre & Pouilly Fumé) has been historically the vast engine for Sauvignon Blanc production, quietly churning out smokingly compex Sauvignon Blancs since the 16th century.
Fast forward to the 1960s, Robert Mondavi decides to re-create the oaked Bordeaux version in his style of “Fume Blanc” American Wines which starts the popular rage of this grape. Following on his footsteps, are David Hohnen and Kevin Judd, who discover that Marlborough, home to the most number of grazing sheep in the world, has a huge potential to grow the same grape in an increasingly world class style of its own, resulting in the famous “Cloudy Bay” of New Zealand!
Sauvignon Blanc, a variety, which has now firmly created a brand name for itself, stands out supremely over other grape varieties. As said earlier, New World’s contribution has been highly noteworthy here – with consistent and constant message highlighted through mass promotion, they have been responsible for embedding Sauvignon Blanc’s image and firmly establishing its existence in our minds – the ultimate consumers! Further more, ease of availability through super market stores, versatility in pairing with many diverse cuisines, has also contributed to its huge popularity. Coupled with persistent efforts by modern winemakers, to create elegant versions of this delicate grape in increasingly approachable styles, are prompting more of us to reach out for this grape (note- irrespective of the region or the producer now!!) at a bar or a restaurant. Sauvignon Blanc today, stands at its peak of favouritism amongst wine lovers around the world.
From some of my recent tastings of this grape, I pick three world class wine producers from three high ranking continents producing bone dry versions of Sauvignon Blanc, noting the fine stylistic differences as well as common themes amongst them. These countries are Chile, New Zealand and France. The vintage may be different but the intention is to bring out distinctive flavours that separate Sauvignon Blancs of the countries.
What is common to all these countries? All 3 regions fall in the cool climate zone, which provide perfect growing conditions for this grape. They are in close proximity with water bodies that moderate and bring in cooling effect and create conducive growing conditions. Chile and New Zealand are at the two ends of the same water mass and benefit from the oceanic influence bringing in maritime weather, which funnels in cool winds from the Pacific Ocean. In contrast to this, Pouilly Fume in France, 400km away from the Atlantic coastline, experiences extreme continental weather. However, what makes Sauvignon Blanc attractive here is the cool moderating effect of the wide and long Loire river that constantly keeps temperatures down during the warm summers, helping the grapes to achieve physiological ripening. An additional terroir factor that differentiates Loire Valley is the limestone rich, well drained soils that have been hugely responsible for creating pure and concentrated mineral driven, crisp wines that have taken these wines to internationally acclaimed standards. These wines were key to inspiring the New World Wine makers to follow the model of terroir driven wines and produce elegant styles using qualitative and sustainable vinification techniques.
Until 2000, Chardonnay was the most widely planted grape in Chile. However since the pulling out of the inferior variety of Sauvignonasse, which used to be added to the original Sauvignon Blanc in early 2000s, the quality of Sauvignon Blanc has massively got boosted. Flavours that stand out uniquely to Sauvignon Blanc in Chile are the leafy, lemongrassy herbal notes.
Sauvignon Blanc expresses its highest levels of zingy acidity and highest grassy edge when grown in the Marlborough region in New Zealand, where aromas of gooseberries and cat’s pee have resulted in its signature pungent style of wines. As much as 90% of the country’s Sauvignon Blanc is now been grown in the ever expanding region of Marlborough which has been reaching higher levels of quality recognition. The grape here also expresses a much higher degree of tropical fruit notes of passion fruit and pineapple.
DOG POINT, NEW ZEALAND
Viticultualist Ivan Sutherland and Winemakes James Healy left Cloudy Bay in 2004 to start making wine from Sutherland’s own vineyard in Wairau Valley in Marlborough. Long hang time for grapes make them very ripe and intensely aromatic. Being a boutique winery which follows and promotes the philosophy of organic and sustainable wines, they are all about personal involvement, hand harvest and indigenous wine making skills aiming to produce wines expressive of their terroir. The resulting wine is elegant and dry with refreshingly high acidity with dominant lemon, grapefruit citrus expressions. Texturally it is soft yet fleshy, has mouthfilling notes of honeysuckle, pear, apricots, yellow mango, pineapple and passion fruit. The classic gooseberry and asparagus notes are highly distinct here too and so is the cat’s pee (in a good way) but what gives it most amount of marks is the smooth integrity of its acidity, intensity and fruit flavours along with a high degree of luminous purity. Excellent finesse. Great pairing with Salads, grilled chicken, hard cheeses and steamed fish with soy sauce(9.5/10)
DE LADOUCETTE, POUILLY FUME, FRANCE
Bone dry with crisp acidity, the strong mineral and smokey element in these wines is second to none. There is a kind of white peppery explosion when the wine lands on the palate. Then, peels out to reveal ripe lemon and pink grapefruits, pear and green apple carrying underneath it, is immense richness and nutty almond notes, fruit purity and concentration. Structurally very dense, the mineral and unctuous texture of this wine gives it a long memorable finish and perfect for ageing for atleast 8-10 years. Great match with goats cheese, roasted peppery chicken with mushrooms (10/10)
(Recent news to note: Recent harsh frost that hit Loire Valley at the end of April / May 2016 bringing down temperatures to as low as -6C which is predicted to jeopardise Loire Valley 2016 vintage to a significant extent)
De LaDoucette is one of the most prominent families in Pouilly Fume. Descending from Comte Lafond family, they were established in 1787 and since then Baron Patrick de Ladoucette has come to be known as one of the top winemakers of the Loire Valley. They produce the finest examples of Loire Valley wines under the label de Ladoucette, Marc Bredif, La Poussie, Regnard and Baron Patrick labels. Available to buy from, The General Wine Company, Swallow Fine Wines Ltd (GBP 22-26) Prices vary depending on the vintage
ERRAZURIZ, ACONCAGUA COAST, CHILE
Dry, crisp acidity with dominant notes of lemon and lime flower, followed by floral honeysuckle and elderflower aromas, fruit aromas from yellow apricots, herbaceous, savoury and salty undertones with nettle leaf and grass. The tropical fruit notes are mild but what stands out is a distinct leafy, lemongrassy note in these wines and a unique savoury herbal edge. I have been informed that being close to the coast, the salt from the ocean winds is responsible for the high levels of savoury spicy notes. Grapes for this wine are sourced from Manzana Vineyard in Aconcagua Coast, about 12 km from the Pacific Ocean. Location at Chile is becoming an extremely important factor with many vineyards now being planted on the steep hill side slopes of Aconcagua Coast. Casablanca Coast is another new zone for grape growing, situated in between coastal mountains and the coast and benefit from early morning fog and afternoon winds from the sea bringing down temperatures. This wine is great match to grilled vegetables, summer bbq, lasagna, pasta and chicken curry (9/10)
(Available at Church St Food Hall, Twickenham GBP 16)
Errazuris, owned by Eduardo Chadwick (Father of Chilean wines) is a reputed benchmark wine for Chile and the company is constantly striving and researching on acquiring and sourcing newer plots while working on better aspects and higher altitudes to create a viticultural niche for themselves, so worth keeping an eye out for their wines. They also have a lot of diversity in terms of price points, and even the entry level wines have got remarkable quality and structure.
All these wines have recently been show cased in my summer tastings this year and received high ranking amongst my participants. For more information on my Tasting Design Workshops, click here. There is a lot more to cover about this grape and many others, so please click here and go to the bottom to register for future Blogs.