I’ve been waiting a long time to use a Springsteen reference in one of my wine articles. That opportunity jumped out at me when I thought about what to say about the varied personalities of Sauvignon Blanc as we celebrate International Sauvignon Blanc Day on May 1 (I know, I know, there is a day for everything these days but what the heck … why NOT celebrate Sauvignon Blanc!).
First, back to Springsteen, a personal favorite of mine and a big Sauvignon Blanc drinker (I actually have no idea if he drinks Sauvignon Blanc even after seeing him over 30 times in concert dating back to around 1975). But the title of his second album as borrowed and tweaked for the title of this article sums up Sauvignon Blanc about as good as anything. After all, the very name Sauvignon Blanc (or just Sauvignon as it is known in some regions) derives from the French word “sauvage” meaning …”wild”. While I should have known that from the six years of French I took – but apparently didn’t learn – I actually saw that definition while reading one of the best wine books from one of the best wine writers ever, “The Wine Bible” by Karen MacNeil. I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in learning more about wine. It is beautifully written and easy to digest for all levels of wine enthusiasts.
But I digress. Depending on where it is grown and how it is made, Sauvignon Blanc can deliver wildness in the extreme, beautiful innocence and a hustle or liveliness that jumps from the glass (rather than a “Shuffle” of the actual album title). Let’s uncork this a bit more.
When most people think of Sauvignon Blanc, they think New Zealand and indeed these are the Glory Days of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. But New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc can be a bit polarizing, as people either love it or hate it. Why? Because New Zealand-style Sauvignon Blanc is about as wild and lively as you can get, with racing acidity, distinctive herbal, gooseberry, grapefruit, straw, hay and sometimes … um … cat pee (which counterintuitively is often regarded as not a bad thing) all hustling out of the glass into our olfactory senses.
So, while some people love New Zealand-style Sauvignon Blanc, those who were Born to Run from it should take look at Sauvignon Blanc from another region, say Bordeaux. Here Sauvignon Blanc is often blended with Semillon which tames the wildness of the grape and can often result in wines that still have that hustle and liveliness we love about Sauvignon Blanc but with more rounded edges and balance. Still crisp with nice acidity and still displaying grapefruit notes and herbal tones, these wines can be much more approachable to those who shy away from New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
Then there are the Sauvignon Blanc wines from the Loire Valley regions of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé (not to be confused with the Pouilly-Fuisse region of Burgundy that produces Chardonnay). Loire Valley Sauvignon Blancs are some of my favorites. Wild? Yes! Lively? You bet! But no cat pee here. These are very precise, tangy wines that can exhibit some smokiness, especially wines from the Fumé Blanc region. These wines beg for oysters or other seafood.
If you have a Hungry Heart to try Sauvignon Blanc that is Born in the USA, give California Sauvignon Blanc a try; particularly the northern regions of Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino which produce some of the more innocent versions of this grape. These wines can see some time in oak and are more influenced by the Human Touch of the winemaker. California Sauvignon Blanc is sometimes referred to as Fumé Blanc, a term coined by none other than the great Robert Mondavi who thought he could market the wine better under that name than the then out-of-favor Sauvignon Blanc. So in a nod to the Pouilly-Fumé Sauvignon Blanc producing region of the Loire mentioned above, the term Fumé Blanc was born. California tames the wildness of this grape with wines that show white fruits, citrus and an absence of grass or overbearing grapefruit or gooseberry. I am not trying to Boss anyone around but for those who think they don’t like Sauvignon Blanc but are willing to give it a try, you may want to start here.
Some of my favorite Sauvignon Blancs in the varying styles/regions include: Sileni, Cellar Selection, Marlborough, NZ (under $15), Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard Martinborough, NZ (about $25), Chateau Turcaud Entre-Deux-Mers, Bordeaux (about $15 ) Duckhorn, Napa Valley (under $25), Pascal Jovilet Sancerre, Loire Valley France (about $30) and Lionel Gosseaume G from the Touraine region of the Loire Valley (about $15).
So, there is no reason for you to be Dancing in the Dark when it comes to Sauvignon Blanc. If you have shied away from Sauvignon Blanc but are willing to be Tougher Than the Rest of the non-Sauvignon Blanc wine drinkers, please try different styles of Sauvignon Blanc from different regions (there are numerous other regions aside from the above that produce varying styles of Sauvignon Blanc, e.g., Northern Italy, Chile, South Africa). If you do, perhaps you will find your own Secret Garden of enjoyment of Sauvignon Blanc.
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