SAUVIGNON BLANC, the world’s eight most-planted grape, hails originally from Bordeaux and the Loire but is today cultivated in every country that makes wine. Famous regions that specialise in it include Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Bordeaux, Casablanca (Chile), Friuli (Italy) and the Adelaide Hills. But it is New Zealand’s Marlborough that has set a benchmark for Sauvignon, even if it has been grown there for only a relatively short time.
Sauvignon ripens early and is a classic ‘cool-climate’ variety. Although it likes reliable, bright sunshine, it has an aversion to intense heat, which can burn off its trademark aromas and leave the wine with an unpleasant, oily mouthfeel.
The aim of the winemaker in most cases is to preserve every ounce of delicious, fresh fruit character in Sauvignon and so the grapes are handled very gently, protected from contact with oxygen, and steel fermented at low temperatures, before early bottling and sale. A second, more long-lived, style exists, too, which reaches its apogee in the Bordeaux appellation of Pessac-Leognan and sees Sauvignon blended with fatter, complementary Sémillon and fermented and matured in oak, usually partially new.
The key selling point (or drawback, depending on who you speak to) of Sauvignon is its direct, obvious character – the flavours are rarely subtle. But the drinking public loves its intense, vivid aromas (which thankfully don’t include cat’s pee anymore), tongue-tingling zestiness and piercingly-clean, herbal flavours. Exhilarating, refreshing and so easy to drink, Sauvignon has exploded in recent years and the surge shows little sign of abating.
Top Sauvignons occasionally last in bottle for a handful of years, but they almost never improve. So keep it in your fridge door, not your cellar, and crack that baby open the first chance you get. Goat’s cheese is the oft-recommended match, but pea risotto or grilled lemon sole would be the business, too.
Three to try
Nouveau Monde Sauvignon Blanc (Languedoc) €9.59 on promo
Pale lemon-green colour with a zesty, fresh nose of apple and citrus. The light, zesty palate is clean and cool, with notes of lime, grapefruit and herbs. Fruity, lively and easy to drink. Perfect aperitif or partner for grilled fish or green salads.
Curious Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) €14.49
Bleasdale Sauvignon Blanc (Adelaide Hills) €15.99
A light, intense white with pronounced fruit flavours of lemon, green apple and guava, framed by racy acidity and a dry, lip-smacking finish. Pungent and flinty, with an intriguing elderflower accent by times. Frank and honest character. Drink on its own after work or go all out and match with pea and goats’ cheese risotto.