Sauvignon Blanc is another one of those confusing grapes that goes by something like 6 different names. Mostly you can blame those persnickety French who don’t label their wines by the grapes but instead by the regions that they come from and as such those regions names soon become synonymous with the wine. But the French aren’t the only ones that confuse the matter, California got into that game too. So grab a glass of Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé, Fume Blanc, or whatever it is that you want to call it and lets learn about the grape.
Both Bordeaux and the Loire Valley in France claim to be there birthplace of Sauvignon Blanc and while it is an important grape in both regions the Loire Valley is really where it shines. No blending is permitted there so all wines must be 100% Sauvignon Blanc. This is the area where some of the most famous Sauvignon Blanc’s in the world come from and two of its aliases, Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé. Sauvignon Blanc here is light, clean, bright and intensely herbal. Sauvignon Blanc also plays a role in Bordeaux but there it is almost always blended with Semillon. Semillon has more richness and body than Sauvignon Blanc and the blend of the two helps to balance out some of the tart acidity of Sauvignon Blanc.
France may be Sauvignon Blanc’s birthplace but there is another region that rivals France’s fame for the grape and that is New Zealand. Thought it has been planted in New Zealand for significantly less time than France it has quickly become the countries claim to fame and is today the most widely planted grape varietal in the country accounting for about 1/3 of the acreage planted.
And then there is California which brings with it yet another alias. Most of the winemakers here seem to go out of their way to play down the herbal quality of the grape. It is also not uncommon here to blend Sauvignon Blanc with Semillon much like in Bordeaux. It is also not uncommon here to age or partially age Sauvignon Blanc in oak, a practice rarely used in both France and New Zealand. And finally California is where the name Fume Blanc comes from, but again there is not actually different between wines labeled Fume Blanc and wines labeled Sauvignon Blanc. The name was simply a marketing strategy from Robert Mondavi that stuck.
So no matter what you call it, what does it taste like? The name, the original name Sauvignon Blanc, comes from the French word sauvage, which means wild. And wild sums up the flavors of this wine pretty well. Sauvignon Blanc is essentially the exact opposite of Chardonnay, it is tart and bright and herbal with a big streak of acidity. There are no tame flavors here, straw, hay, grass, meadow, smoke, green tea green herbs, and gunflint. Perhaps one of the best descriptors of Sauvignon Blanc, cat pee, which doesn’t sound appealing but that wild tangy smell is actually considered a good quality unless it is extreme. It is exactly these wild flavors and the central core of acidity that make Sauvignon Blanc a good match for food. Because of those untamed flavors Sauvignon Blanc is a good match for spicy or assertive dishes, not something very many wines can claim. It predictably goes really well with anything that focuses on herbs or bright greens, including a multitude of salads and even soups (another notoriously difficult dish to pair with). So no matter what you want to call it don’t overlook it when looking for a crisp, wild wine to pair with something equally unruly that you cooked up.