Sauvignon blanc is a green-skinned grape variety from Bordeaux in France that most likely gets its name from the French word sauvage (wild) and blanc (white). It is a component of famous dessert wines from Sauternes and Barsac and is widely cultivated in France, Chile, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, Moldova, and California.
Depending on the climate, sauvignon blanc’s flavors can range from aggressively grassy to sweetly tropical. When slightly chilled, it pairs exceedingly well with fish and cheese, particularly chèvre, and is also one of the few wines that can handle sushi. A possible descendant of savagnin, sauvignon blanc typically produces a crisp, dry, elegant, refreshing wine, especially when originating in Australia and New Zealand. It also rarely exceeds $25 per bottle at retail.
Let’s start with Australia. Oxford Landing Sauvignon Blanc from South Australia has live-wire acidity and is very appealing for its lime zest and melon flavors that spread on a generous palate. Robert Oatley’s version, from Margaret River on the west coast, is also fresh and vibrant, with delicate green pear and mint flavors that linger for quite a while.
As for New Zealand, sauvignon blanc, along with riesling, was one of the first fine wines to be bottled with a screwcap in commercial quantities, especially by Kiwi producers. Such neutral treatment (particularly in the short term) can only benefit vibrant wine, but the Palliser Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2012 from the Martinborough area still comes across in a minimalist way, with dense aromas of lemon and yellow apple that fade into clover and basil.
Of course, the most famous area for sauvignon blanc in New Zealand is Marlborough, and a terrific value comes from Makara, so peppery and full of minerality on the nose. It’s the perfect counterpoint to later waves of juicy lemon and lime and just a hint of green apple.
There is certainly no dearth of great sauvignon blanc from Marlborough! St. Clair’s Vicar’s Choice offers fresh cilantro and mown grass layered on red apple, red grapefruit, and green papaya. Only medium in body, there’s plenty of racy acidity that lingers long on an herbal finish.
The Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Cellar Selection noses green apple and grass with a bit of grapefruit pith and Kaffir lime. This has an intensely mineral texture with a tremendous concentration of crisp acidity and a long finish.
Finally, Matua Valley’s Sauvignon Blanc Paretai shines in greenish yellow, with aromas of sunflower and quince and flavors of pineapple and citrus. The finish is sweet and the frame moderate.
Sauvignon blanc is usually consumed young because, except for certain dry and sweet white Bordeaux that typically have it as a major component and can age 15 years or more, it does not benefit from aging. But more on these more mysterious wines, as well as California examples of great sauvignon blanc, in a later column.
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Oxford Landing Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (South Australia, Australia) $9
Robert Oatley Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (Margaret River, Australia) $20
Palliser Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (Martinborough, New Zealand) $20
Makara Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (Marlborough, New Zealand) $15
St. Clair Sauvignon Blanc Vicar’s Choice 2012 (Marlborough, New Zealand) $15
Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Cellar Selection 2011 (Marlborough, New Zealand) $17
Matua Valley Sauvignon Blanc Paretai 2011 (Marlborough, New Zealand) $21