Sauvignon Blanc wine grape

Sauvignon Blanc
Today a truly international variety, known and planted the world over, Sauvignon’s rise has been quite recent.  Until the Eighties it was mostly confined to the Upper Loire and to Bordeaux.  Its success in New Zealand’s Marlborough region, coupled with the Nineties’ backlash against Chardonnay and oak, led to it being enthusiastically planted all over the globe.
 
It probably originated in the upper Loire rather than Bordeaux.  The earliest references to it are from the Loire, and DNA analysis has shown that it is a child of Traminer, which itself originated in or near north-east France and was unknown in western France.  Its name refers to its similarity in leaf shape with wild (Fr. sauvage) Vitis Sylvestris vines, which is further evidence for its orgin in the Loire: wild vines occur there but not in Bordeaux.
 
However, it was after spreading to Bordeaux that it took part in the most famous vine union of them all, when it spontaneously crossed with Cabernet Franc to create Cabernet Sauvignon.  In Bordeaux it is usually blended with Sémillon, especially in the oaked and ageworthy dry whites from Pessac-Leognan and the great botrytised sweet wines of Sauternes, though varietal unoaked dry wines are becoming more popular.  Sauvignon/Sémillon blends are also important in other regions, such as Australia’s Margaret River.
 
In the Loire it is invariably used on its own, and most of the rest of the world follows suit, including Marlborough, whose pungent “cat’s pee on a gooseberry bush” style has superceded the less fruity and more austere style of Sancerre as the world’s template for this variety. 
 
Wine from Sauvignon Blanc typically has high acidity and pronounced ‘green’ scents and flavours (grass, nettles, fresh peas, goooseberries).  However, these are caused by light- and temperature-sensitive pyrazine compounds, and only occur in early-picked wines from reasonably cool climates.  Tropical fruit flavours, especially passionfruit, emerge in riper wines, but overripe wines from hot climates tend to be just vaguely fruity and soft, prone to oxidation.
 
Sauvignon Blanc doesn’t normally age well, except when made as a dessert wine and/or blended with Sémillon, though the best Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé can improve for a few years.  Older Marlborough-style Sauvignons tend to develop odd “stewed asparagus” vegetal flavours.  Enjoy them young!

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