What is Sauvignon Blanc?
The aromatic and easy-drinking nature of Sauvignon Blanc has seen it become one of our most popular white wines. Most famous as a refreshing fruit-driven style full of tropical characters, it can also be made with some time in barrel to add a further dimension of complexity.
While our New Zealander cousins have certainly had phenomenal success with their take on Sauvignon Blanc, the Australian style has its own enticing regional characteristics and appeal, which is seeing it make its mark on the wine world.
Here we take a deep dive to give you the details on this refreshing variety, and to answer some common questions like ‘is Sauvignon Blanc a dry white wine?’, ‘how do I pronounce Sauvignon Blanc’, and ‘how long does Sauvignon Blanc last?’
And to help reveal a little more about Australian Sauvignon Blanc from a local producer perspective, we’ve caught up with Tom Northcott of Howard Vineyard, Dan Berrigan of Berrigan Wines, Tim Knappstein of Riposte Wines and the Burch family of Howard Park Wines.
How to pronounce Sauvignon Blanc?
What is Sauvignon Blanc similar to? Gruner Veltliner or Semillon!
Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with cheese, risotto and green vegetables.
Sauvignon Blanc can be cellared for up to 2 years.
What are the characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc?
What does Sauvignon Blanc taste like? Tropical fruit, balance and texture.
WHERE IS SAUVIGNON BLANC FROM?
The home of Sauvignon Blanc is France’s Loire Valley, where it is most famous for wines from the sub-regions of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. Thanks to DNA mapping work in the late 90s, it was discovered that Sauvignon Blanc is the parent of the great red variety of Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, and that mainstay red of the Loire, Cabernet Franc. This apparently happened through natural mutation and selection in the 17th century and it’s evident in the varietal flavour profile, where all three varieties seem to have herbaceous and leafy aromas.
Sauvignon Blanc in Australia
Sauvignon Blanc has evolved in Australia since its introduction. Starting with a modest presence here, it was grown primarily in the cooler regions of Adelaide Hills and Margaret River producing crisp, acidic wines with bright citrus and herbaceous notes. However, from the 1990s its global popularity grew and winemakers began experimenting with different vineyard sites and winemaking techniques.
The variety has evolved in Australia to showcase a wider range of flavours and aromas. Some winemakers are now incorporating oak ageing and malolactic fermentation, resulting in a richer and more complex style of Sauvignon Blanc, while others are producing wines with riper fruit flavours and lower acidity. Ultimately, this has all led to a diverse range of styles available that will satisfy a variety of tastes, from crisp and refreshing to bold and complex.
It’s also fair to say that Sauvignon Blanc cops some criticism, possibly as a result of its general popularity and its appeal to the novice wine drinker due to the variety’s unmistakeable tropical aromas. It is popular because the novice wine drinker can identify it – not only does that give them a sense of assurance that the wine experience they are about to have is going to be a familiar one, but it also gives them a sense of pride about their burgeoning wine knowledge.
WHAT ARE THE BEST SAUVIGNON BLANC REGIONS IN AUSTRALIA?
Sauvignon Blanc thrives in a cool climate region, which gives it a defined acid profile and fruit vibrancy and, luckily for us, Australia is spoilt for choice when it comes to cool climate wine regions. Leading the way is the Adelaide Hills region, which produces crisp, fresh and grassy Sauvignon Blanc.
Other Australian regions famous for Sauvignon Blanc is the Orange wine region with its fruity and herbaceous examples, and Western Australia’s Margaret River and Pemberton regions for ripe and zippy styles with tropical characteristics.
The cool climes of the Yarra Valley, King Valley and Goulburn Valley produce restrained and elegant Sav Blanc, while Tasmania is winning favour for its dry, occasionally oaked styles with their elevated acidity. Coonawarra, McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek also do well, producing fruit-driven and richer styles.
WHAT DOES SAUVIGNON BLANC TASTE LIKE?
Depending on where in Australia your Sauvignon Blanc originates, it runs the gamut of flavour from herbal, grassy, citrus and gooseberry, to passionfruit and tropical fruit characters. It generally displays lifted aromas, meaning the wine is particularly aromatic, and features zesty, fresh and bright characters.
Is Sauvignon Blanc a dry white wine? Ultimately yes, but because there are a variety of different styles, you could say there is a spectrum from drier styles with bright, crisp, elevated acidity through to more generous styles with softer acidity and ripe fruit flavours.
WHAT OTHER VARIETIES IS SAUVIGNON BLANC SIMILAR TO?
So, perhaps you’re a fan of Sauvignon Blanc but you want to expand your horizons a little and try some other wines that have similar characteristics.
One of them is Albariño, a white grape variety that is native to Spain. Like Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño is known for its bright acidity and citrusy flavours, but it also has a distinctive salinity and minerality that comes from the coastal vineyards where it is grown.
Vermentino is another variety that might be of interest. It’s commonly grown in Italy and France, and is rapidly gaining popularity here in Australia due to its suitability to our warmer climate. Vermentino wines are typically crisp and refreshing, with flavours of green apple, lemon, and herbs, and a hint of saltiness on the finish.
The Austrian variety, Grüner Veltliner, is another great option for Sauvignon Blanc lovers. This wine has a similar acidity and freshness, with flavours of citrus, white peach, and white pepper, and a distinct minerality that is a hallmark of the variety.
WHAT IS SEMILLON SAUVIGNON BLANC?
The Classic Dry White is most commonly a blend of two white varieties, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (SBS, or Semillon Sauvignon Blanc – SSB). It’s the most popular white blend in the country and it has been since the 1980s. Years before Sauvignon Blanc cast its spell on us, we were downing this crisp, refreshing white by the bucketload, and it’s still going strong today.
The Margaret River region was the first to really latch onto the Classic White blend. It became popular at cellar doors and other producers in the region saw it as their ‘bread and butter’ wine and jumped on board. When the region started selling their wine to the rest of the country, ‘Margs’ had already established a reputation for producing refreshing and attractively priced Classic Dry White, and it has retained a regular spot in their offerings ever since.
CHARDONNAY VS SAUVIGNON BLANC…WHICH IS BETTER?
While both are classic white varieties with French origins, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay have quite different profiles. Like any wine, it’s really a personal preference on which you prefer.
When it comes to taste, Sauvignon Blanc is typically more fresh, zesty and bright, and displays tropical fruit notes, while Chardonnay is typically more full-bodied, rich and refined with stonefruit and melon profiles.
When it comes to shelf life and cellaring, Chardonnay can be stored and enjoyed for years to come, the flavours developing further as time goes on. How long does Sauvignon Blanc last unopened? Not as long as Chardonnay. To get the best out of your Sauv Blanc it’s recommended to drink it in its youth, during the first year or two of its release.
What the experts say
Tom Northcott – winemaker, Howard Vineyard, Adelaide Hills
is so great a few reasons, it’s light, bright typically clean with distinctive fruit flavours of citrus, pink grapefruit and slight tropical aromas when done well. It’s the perfect easy drinking wine that easily understood.
The Adelaide Hills is the best place to grow Sauvignon Blanc due to our high altitude vineyards. Sauvignon Blanc is most delicate and pretty when grown around 450m above sea level. In the hills, this means the cool nights lock in great natural acidity and the warm days give lovely slow ripening conditions, all making our fruit vibrant and fresh.
Dan Berrigan – winemaker, Berrigan Wines, Mount Benson
is such a bright and fresh, fruity (yet dry) wine, that is just so consistently high quality in Australia, so as a consumer you know what you’re buying with very little unwanted surprises.
The cool and breezy, maritime climate found in Mount Benson enables us to consistently grow premium Sauvignon Blanc with grapevine canopies that are very open to sunlight, that in turn results in a high level of tropical fruit flavours in the grape skins and subsequent wine. The cool, sunny days during summer also enable us to ripen our fruit slowly to maturity while retaining plenty of natural acidity which gives the wine plenty of life and ‘zing’!
Tim Knappstein – winemaker, Riposte by Tim Knappstein, Adelaide Hills
We think that the Riposte Sauvignon Blancs
are rather special because they are made entirely from fruit from high altitude (500 metres+) vineyards in the Adelaide Hills.
We like the punchy, powerful flavours, and then we ferment a portion of it in new French oak to give the wine texture and weight. We’re not looking for really obvious oak, nor do we want lees characters to detract from the fruit. The added weight of the oaked component also helps to balance the high natural acidity that these vineyards produce.
The Burch family – owners, Howard Park Wines, Margaret River
Margaret River has a very temperate maritime climate, we’re surrounded by the ocean on three sides. The conditions are ideal to create a delicate and complex Sauvignon Blanc
with aromas of citrus, some gooseberry, elderflower and lemon scented herbs. The palate retains this same fine fruit expression as a soft lemon curd richness adds dimension and texture. A fine balance is retained as the gentle citrus like acidity gives length and crispness to finish.
BEST FOOD PAIRINGS FOR SAUVIGNON BLANC
With such a range of styles, Sauvignon Blanc is a versatile food wine. The variety’s herbal notes and aromatic fruit flavours means it’s ideal with dishes containing green vegetables, and strongly flavoured washed rind and goat’s cheese. It’s also great with crunchy salads, fresh seafood, fried food, simple risottos, and delicate Asian dishes.