Chardonnay may be better known, but Sauvignon Blanc wins the Miss Congeniality prize. This delicious, exceedingly versatile grape can be made into wines that suit nearly any food. In fact, the wines made from Sauvignon Blanc are so different that it's sometimes hard to believe they all begin with the same varietal.
Like any grape, Sauvignon Blanc produces different styles of wine depending on where it is grown, the climate and the vineyard practices of the grower. Cool climates, chalky soils and unrestrained vine growth, for example, usually yield wines with herbal, bell pepper and asparagus flavors in the finished product. More restrained growth produces pear, fig and melon flavors.
Born to Impress
The birthplace of Sauvignon Blanc seems to be the Loire Valley of France, where the grape is made into the lean, steely, crisp wines of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. These wines go great with seafood such as shrimp, raw oysters and broiled or sautéed fish. In the Bordeaux area of France, particularly southern departments, Sauvignon Blanc is often paired with Sémillon to smooth its acidic nature, making very dry white wines that marry well with almost all light foods and are great summertime refreshers.
Sauvignon Blanc, typically, is quite dry with very little residual sugar—but not always. Taken to the ultimate richness of late harvest along with Sémillon grapes that have been attacked by the botrytis cinerea mold, also called noble rot, the two grapes produce the amazing, sweet and expensive dessert wine called Sauternes from the area of the same name in France. Sauternes, served in a small, tulip-shaped clear glass, is often paired with rich, blue-veined cheeses.
New Zealand produces a flagship Sauvignon Blanc with an entirely different style: very grassy, decidedly acidic and exceedingly crisp. These wines not only refresh during hot summers but also pair perfectly with shellfish and crustaceans.
California produces its share of crisp, acidic, grapefruity Sauvignon Blancs. But softer, less acidic wines are also available from this region. In 1968 California's legendary Robert Mondavi coined a then-new term—"Fumé Blanc"—for a dry, fresh style of Sauvignon Blanc that has since become very popular.
Chile also exports some great Sauvignon Blancs, including one from Casa Lapostolle that is among the most food-friendly wines available.
Sleek and racy, crisp and refreshing, tart and impertinent—and, most of all, a useful, all-around white wine. That's Sauvignon Blanc.