Getting to Know Sauvignon Blanc

Hardly anyone doesn’t like Chardonnay. The same holds true for Merlot.

They may not be one’s favorite white or red wine, but they rarely are despised.

Oh, if only the same could be said for Sauvignon Blanc, a variety that people tend to love or hate.

What about you? Are you a Sauvignon Blanc fan? Whether you answered yes or no, the harsh truth is that you may not really know the variety because it has so many different personalities. The key to Sauvignon Blanc’s flavor is its place of origin.

Did you ever have a glass of Cloudy Bay during the 1990s or 2000s? That was the real love/hate rendition, defined by its in-your-face, no-apologies flavors of bell pepper and gooseberry.

At the other end of the spectrum were/are renditions from California’s Napa Valley, which tend to be much softer in mouthfeel and melony in flavor.

Why such a big difference? The Marlborough growing region of New Zealand, the home of Cloudy Bay, has what is considered a cold climate for winegrape growing. Napa Valley, conversely, is quite warm. The grapes know the difference.

If you prefer the cold-climate style, the Elgin area of South Africa provides additional bottlings to try. If your palate leans more toward the warm-weather style, Australia and Chile’s Central Valley offer plenty of choices.

Is there a benchmark locale for Sauvignon Blanc? The answer, of course, is purely subjective, but it’s hard to beat the Sancerre appellation of France’s Loire Valley. There, the melon-like flavors of Napa are replaced by lip-smacking grapefruit, while the bell pepper impression of Marlborough gives way to less assertive herb flavors.

So, do you like Sauvignon Blanc? Given the number of styles and sources, the real answer probably is, “I don’t know.”

If you have the opportunity, perhaps at a wine bar, try the various styles side by side. That’s the best way to determine the type of Sauvignon Blanc your palate prefers.

Posted in Wine in the Glass
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