Sauvignon Blanc wines come from green grapes that were originally grown in France's Bordeaux region, although they are now grown in wine regions all around the world. Sauvignon Blanc wines are usually crisp, light, dry whites that are perfect summer sippers, although Sauvignon Blanc grapes are also used in France's famous sweet, white dessert wine, Sauternes, as well as other dessert wines.
Sauvignon Blanc Basics
Sauvignon Blanc is the name of the grape variety used in the white wines, as well as the name of the wines made from the grapes. Not all wines containing Sauvignon Blanc grapes are eponymous, however. You may also find wines containing Sauvignon Blanc grapes called Fumé Blanc, Muskat-Silvaner, and Sauvignon Jaune, among many other names.
Meaning and Pronunciation
The term Sauvignon Blanc means "wild white," which is a description of the original grapes which grew in the wilds of France's Loire Valley and were later cultivated for wine production. It has a French pronunciation, as noted in the video below. The pronunciation is soh-vee-nyawn blohn, although some people (particularly Americans) flatten the a in the first syllable and pronounce the "c" in blanc, saying saw-vee-nyawn blohnc.
While Sauvignon Blanc grapes originated in France, they grow well in many wine regions around the world. They grow best in warm (but not hot) regions with plenty of sun, and the grapes ripen quickly and often require an earlier harvest than other varietals. France is the number one grower of Sauvignon Blanc grapes, followed by Italy, New Zealand, and the United States.
In France, Sauvignon Blanc grapes are used to make Sancerre, Cheverny Blanc, and Pouilly-Fumé wines from the Loire Valley, as well as pairing with Sémillon and Muscadelle grapes to make the sweet Bordeaux region dessert wine, Sauternes. It is also the primary grape found in whites from other French wine regions including Entre-Deux-Mers and Graves.
Other European Countries
In Germany and sometimes in nearby Alsace, France, Sauvignon Blanc grapes are called Muskat-Silvaner (also Muscat-Silvaner). You can also find Sauvignon Blanc table wines from Northeastern Italy and Spain.
In the United States, the most common growing regions for Sauvignon Blanc are in Napa Valley and Sonoma, as well as Washington State. In many cases, the wines are labeled with the name of the grape varietal; however, some Sauvignon Blanc wines, particularly those from California, may also called Fumé Blanc, a term coined by California wine pioneer Robert Mondavi in the 1960s.
Marlborough, New Zealand and Other NZ Wine Regions
In the past few decades, Marlborough, New Zealand has become famous for its Sauvignon Blanc wines because winemakers there discovered the near perfect growing conditions for the grape. New Zealand growers didn't plant the first Sauvignon Blanc grapes until 1979, but in the four decades since that first planting, the country has become world famous for their excellent examples of Sauvignon Blanc wines. Sauvignon Blanc accounts for 86 percent of New Zealand wine exported around the world.
You will also find Sauvignon Blanc wines from other countries including Australia, Chile, and South Africa.
Flavors in Sauvignon Blanc
What makes a good Sauvignon Blanc is in the eye of the beholder, and it depends on your individual tastes. However, in general, a good Sauvignon Blanc has medium to medium-high acidity, bright, fresh fruit flavors, and a hint of herbs and peppers. Crisp is often the term most commonly associated with Sauvignon Blanc wines, and it's true that the dry versions of Sauvignon Blanc often are extremely crisp due to the acidic fruit flavors and herbal character of the wines, as well as the fact many Sauvignon Blanc wines aren't aged in oak, so they don't develop the warm, toasty flavors that oak imparts.
Flavors in Unoaked Sauvignon Blanc
In an unoaked Sauvignon Blanc wine, the fruit's flavors and acidity shine through. The flavors will vary based on the terroir, or soil in which the grapes are grown, as well as due to climate and cultivation practices. Common flavors found in these acidic whites include the following:
- Herbaceous or grassy flavors
- Mineral or slate flavors
- Tropical fruit
Flavors in Oaked Sauvignon Blanc
If the Sauvignon Blanc is aged in oak barrels, the above flavors are still present, but you'll also find flavors commonly associated with wines aged in oak, such as the following.
- Buttery flavors
Flavors in Sweet Sauvignon Blanc Wines
Sauvignon Blanc works well in sweet wines, such as late harvest wines and ice wines, because its bright acidity brings balance to the sweetness. The sweet wines are bright and crisp in spite of their sweetness, and the floral aromas and flavors are enhanced.
Sauvignon Blanc Versus Chardonnay
While both Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay have their white wine status in common, the two have very different flavor profiles. Chardonnays tend to be rich and toasty, and they age well, while Sauvignon Blanc wines are vibrant, youthful, and acidic. When Sauvignon Blanc is aged in oak, it gets closer to a Chardonnay, but even with oak, the acidity and grassiness of a Sauvignon Blanc make it easily distinguishable from a Chardonnay.
How to Drink Sauvignon Blanc
Most Sauvignon Blanc wines don't age well because they drink best when they are relatively young, within a year to 18 months of their vintage. However, sweet wines from Sauvignon Blanc can age for years or sometimes even decades due to the high sugar content of the wine. The dry wine is best served crisply cold at about 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Serve sweet Sauvignon Blanc wines slightly warmer at about 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Because of its crispness, Sauvignon Blanc makes a fantastic summer wine. It's grassy and herbal flavors pair well with light foods such as white fish like halibut, oysters (raw or cooked), anything with a lively herb sauce, green veggies such as green beans, or even a green salad. Wine expert Natalie MacLean, author of Red, White, and Drunk All Over particularly recommends New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc as an ideal wine to pair with veggies. According to MacLean, this wine "complements most vegetables due to its herbal, grassy aromas and bright citrus notes." She elaborates, "If there were an award for Veggie Wine of the Century, it would go to this one." The dessert versions of Sauvignon Blanc pair well with foie gras, pâté and terrines, and crème brûlée because the acidity cuts through the fattiness of the foods.
Price of Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon Blanc wines, even good Sauvignon Blancs, tend to be highly affordable; you can find excellent examples under $20 for a 750 mL bottle with many excellent bottles costing less than $10. Expect to pay more for Sancerre and other French versions of the wine, which can cost between $20 and $30 for a 750 mL bottle. Sweet and dessert wines are typically more expensive, with the best versions of Sauternes from France costing $50 or more for a half bottle.
Drink It in the Summer
While you can enjoy Sauvignon Blanc year-round, its crisp acidity and vibrant, fresh flavors somehow just taste best in summertime. It's a refreshing wine to serve chilled for a backyard barbecue when the weather is hot and sultry.