Wine 101

Focus on: Sauvignon Blanc

First, click here for some learning music…

This week: that grape that gets everywhere, gets into everything, goes with everything and started a wine revolution half a world away. Time to learn about one of the premier white grape varieties: Sauvignon Blanc.

All right, let’s get fresh.

I think Sauvignon Blanc and I think New Zealand, but it sounds French. What’s up with that?

Sauvignon Blanc is an indigenous French grape (it probably gets its name from the French “sauvage” meaning “wild”), but it grows literally all over the world – some people are even planting it in England! New Zealanders were among the first to start selling it in screw-cap bottles – perfect for a wine like SB that’s normally drunk young – and it started a boom in the 90s that had a huge impact on the wine trade worldwide. It’s now the 8th most planted grape.

I’m guessing there’s a difference between the French and NZ Sauvignon?
Not just those two: the flavor can range from grassy ‘n’ green to sweet ‘n’ tropical and everything in between, depending on where it’s produced. Cooler climates produce wines with noticeable acidity and “green flavors” (more on that in a mo). Warmer climates get you tropical fruit notes. Sauvignon Blanc is grown in France, South Africa, Chile, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, America…

Where do those flavours come from?
Great question; don thine labcoat. The tropical flavours like mango and passionfruit come from thiols, organosulfur compounds that smell fruity in tiny amounts (you don’t want TOO much of this: too many thiols can impart a garlic-y taste). The grass and green pepper flavours come from a naturally occurring compound called methoxy-pyrazine that’s present in grapes and… you guessed it, green peppers.

So it’s mostly drunk as a single varietal?
Well, it’s certainly delicious that way, but Sauvignon Blanc is actually used in a LOT of different places. Mix it with Semillon and you’ve got the perfect blend for the majority of sweet wines the world over (the most famous sweet wines that have SB are the mind-blowing wines of Sauternes in Bordeaux. You can even find wines dating back to 1811). It’s also a base blending grape for many white Bordeaux.

And you just drink it young?

Nuthin’ wrong with a young wine, but cooler climates with a long growing season can turn out Sauvignon Blanc fit for aging. Age it willy-nilly and it will create vegetable flavours like pea and asparagus which are definitely an… acquired taste, but careful care on the vine and some subtle oaking can create Sauvignon that ages beautifully.

Very last bonus fact:  in the 18th Century, Sauvignon Blanc was crossed with Cabernet Franc to produce Cabernet Sauvignon. Ta-da!

One of the best things about the Sauvignon Blanc boom is that everyone’s got an opinion, especially the purple-apron clad experts at Humble Grape. Pop in and pick their brains – they’s sure to find something new for you.