Long ago, in a land far, far away there existed a noble white grape that ruled the vineyards and
eventually found a mate in an equally noble red grape that also ruled its domaine. They
eventually sired a child but that’s where the story ends. Everyone loves Cabernet Sauvignon, no
one remembers Sauvignon Blanc.
Sauvignon Blanc often is regarded as that other white wine hidden in Chardonnay’s shadow.
However it’s a noble grape that stands on its own merits with grassy, herbaceous overtones with
green pepper, passion fruit or melon notes and crisp acidity that makes it extremely food
friendly. When blended with Semillon or aged in toasted oak, the richness can make Chardonnay
seem like that other white wine and in extreme cases, even give that characteristic scent the
French refer to as “pipi du chat”.
California Sauvignon Blanc
California actually produces the full spectrum of Sauvignon Blanc from the classic herbaceous,
grassy wines of the New World to the racy, flinty acidic wines found in Sancerre to the lush, full
bodied blends found in the Graves region of Bordeaux. Napa Valley also has its very own “Fume
Blanc” originally coined by the patriarch of Napa, Robert Mondavi. He wanted to elevated
Sauvignon Blanc’s status and decided to barrel ferment it to mirror its French counterpart in
Graves. Therefore, Mondavi was the first to produce a richer Sauvignon Blanc with toasty, fig
notes with enough body to stand up to roasted white meats. These days several wineries produce
their own versions of Fume Blanc – when it’s labeled as such, expect richer, full bodied
Sauvignon Blancs. Unfortunately, some wineries took this approach to the extreme and started
producing very rich, almost fat Sauvignon Blancs as if trying to create Chardonnay’s evil twin.
Somehow those pleasing herbaceous and grassy qualities that I loved about the varietal were
forsaken just to be a Chard wannabe. If I want to drink Chardonnay, I’ll purchase Chardonnay!
Fortunately as trends tend to revert full circle, California Sauvignon Blanc seems to be back on
Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc
When Cloudy Bay Vineyards hit the Wine Spectator radar, it elevated New Zealand as one of the
hottest regions to find great, low priced Sauvignon Blanc. The Marlborough region produces
Sauvignon Blanc with those great herbal, grassy, passion fruit notes along with bracing acidity
found in the Old World version in Sancerre... including a touch of the pipi du chat. Just a
couple years ago, you could find all of this for less than $20 per bottle. Then came the Wine
Spectator review placing it as wine #7 out of 100 in the Top 100 list of 1997. Consider yourself
lucky if you find it for less than $30 per bottle. However, there still are bargains in the
Sauvignon Blanc wine world. Brancott, Nobilo, Babich and Kim Crawford all make very good
AND affordable wines that are often found in the big box retailers in your neighborhood.
Old World Sauvignon Blanc
Old World Sauvignon Blanc mainly falls into three distinct type of wines, the rich Sauvignon
Blanc/Semillon blends of Bordeaux, the lemony wines of Sancerre in the Loire Valley and the
smoky Pouilly Fumes also from the Loire Valley.
The rich whites of Bordeaux consists anywhere from 20% to 100% Sauvignon Blanc with the
balance coming from Semillon. These wines are meant for the long haul – if you want
Sauvignon Blanc that can be opened early, pass on these rich white Bordeaux. The Loire Valley
makes much more approachable wines, the choice being between the lemony, flinty wines of
Sancerre or the smoky wines of Pouilly Fume.
Sauvignon Blanc is also added to a base of Semillon to make the luscious dessert wines of
Sauternes such as Chateau d’Yquem, Suiduraut and Rieussec but that’s another column.
What to Eat With Sauvignon Blanc
Because of its herbal qualities, Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with most dishes that also have a
strong herbal component in the dish. Essences of thyme, tarragon, coriander and marjoram can
be found in Sauvignon Blanc so any dish that uses these herbs would be complementary to the
Sauvignon Blanc also pairs surprising well with Asian cuisine. I usually think of Riesling or
Gewurztraminer based wines when dining at Chinese or Thai restaurants. On one occasion, I didn’
t bring a wine with me and the restaurant didn’t offer any Riesling so I ordered a fruitier
Sauvignon Blanc. The melon and passion fruit notes in the wine was very complementary to Pad
Thai and green papaya salad. I later brought a bottle to a Chinese restaurant and this time, the
bell pepper and pineapple notes was a perfect balance with the sweet and sour dishes and the
acidity inherent in Sauvignon Blanc helped to cleanse my palate like the Oolong tea normally
And lastly Sauvignon Blanc’s obvious food partner is seafood, literally any type of seafood
ranging from lean and fatty fish to oysters and mussels to crab and shrimp to squid and octopus.
Once again like Chardonnay, if the dish is complemented by a squeeze of lemon, then
Sauvignon Blanc will also complement the meal.
The Gochiso’s Short List of Sauvignon Blanc
Less than $20 Less than $30 More than $30
St Supery Murphy Goode The Deuce Cloudy Bay
Brancott Grgich Crocker Starr
Ferrari Carano Simi Sendal Les Plantiers du Haut Brion
Nobilo Benzinger Didier Dagueneau
The Forgotten Sauvignon