Sauvignon blanc is a green-skinned grape variety that originated in the Bordeaux region of France. The grape was named after the French word sauvage (“wild”) and blanc (“white”). In Western and Central France, Sauvignon Blanc was, and in some places still is, known as Sauvignon Fume or Fume Blanc. Presently, Sauvignon blanc is extensively grown and cultivated in many of the world's major wine regions including France, New Zealand, Australia, California, South Africa, and South America all producing crisp and refreshing white varietal Sauvignon Blanc wines. The wine is usually consumed young and unlike many wines, it doesn't really improve with aging. However Bordeaux's sweet wines rely on sauvignon blanc as an ingredient, adding Sauvignon Blanc helps provide an elegance, complexity & freshness to balance the intense sweetness. Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Chile all produce spectacular late harvest or botrytis sweet wines from the sauvignon blanc grape.
Some California Sauvignon Blanc's are also called “Fume Blanc”, many people perceive this to be a different type of wine. However the difference in the name was just a marketing ploy created by Robert Mondavi. He changed the name to Fume Blanc after noticing his Sauvignon Blanc wines were not selling, this change worked and his sales increased.
Sauvignon Blanc has pronounced flavors of a herbal variety, with apple and grassy flavors, plus olive and a slight soft, smoky flavor. Sauvignon Blanc can be anything from dry to sweet, but are typically light, crisp and acidic.
As is common with many of the ancient grape varieties, the precise origin of Sauvignon blanc is not known. The variety appears to be indigenous to either the Loire region, in central France where most of the variations are located or in Bordeaux in southwest France. The first mention of Sauvignon Blanc appeared in France during the reign of Henri IV in the late 16th century, at the time the grape was known as Surin.
Sauvignon Blanc was first taken to California in the late 19th Century, and has since been grown successfully in Australia and, most recently in New Zealand, where it was first introduced in the 1970’s. These three areas, particularly Australia, and New Zealand have had great success with the grape, both producing world class Sauvignon Blanc varietal wines.
France: The major plantings of Sauvignon Blanc in France can be found in the maritime climte of Bordeaux as well as the continental climate of the Loire Valley. These areas seem to be most suited for the production of Sauvignon Blanc, with the climate in these regions helping to slow the ripening on the vine, which gives the grape time to develop a balance between its sugar and acidity levels. Soils in the growing areas have a major impact on the finished wine. The gravel soil found near the Loire River and its tributaries impart spicy, floral and mineral flavors while in Bordeaux, the wines have a fruitier personality. The chalk and Kimmeridgean marl of Sancerre and Pouilly produces wines of richness and complexity while areas with more compact chalk soils produces wines with more finesse and perfume. Vines planted in flint tend to produce the most vigorous and longest lasting wines.
New Zealand: Sauvignon Blanc was first planted in New Zealand in the 1970's. In it's short history New Zealand's Sauvignon Blanc reputation has grown and it is now known as one of the best producers of quality varietal Sauvignon Blanc's in the world. The South islands climate and soils are particularly suited to the production of fine Sauvignon Blanc. The Marlborough region, which produces New Zealand's best Sauvignon Blanc's, is made up of sandy soils over slate shingles that allow for good drainage. The poor fertility of the soils here helps to reduce yields, and concentrate the grapes flavors. Other regions which have been gaining a reputation for their fine wines are Gisborne, Waipara, and Martinborough on the South island, and Hawkes Bay on the North island.
North America: California is the leading Sauvignon Blanc producer in North America. Here the grape is also known as the Fume Blanc. The grape can also be found growing in Washington state, as well as the Okanagan Valley and on the Niagara Peninsula in Canada. The California produced Sauvignon Blanc wines are typically made in 2 styles. The Mondavi influenced Sauvignon Blanc tend to be more round with melon notes, while the New Zealand influenced wines have more tropical fruit undertones with passion fruit and citrus notes.
Elsewhere in the world, Sauvignon Blanc can be found growing in Chile, Brazil, Italy, South Africa, and Australia, which has recently gained a reputation for their production of quality varietal Sauvignon Blanc wines.
Although they can vary greatly from region to region, a typical Sauvignon Blanc will be light to medium bodied, crisp and refreshing white wine with relatively high acidity. They tend to be herbaceous with lemongrass, freshly cut grass or hay and vegetable often present. Gooseberry, passion fruit, melon, pear, pineapple, lemon and grapefruit flavors and aromas are often present. These wines pair well with Seafood, poultry and pork dishes. They can be enjoyed with salads, and are especially enjoyable with Asian food such as Thai fish cakes.