Sauvignon Blanc is a green grape grown throughout the world. It is a component of many Bordeaux wines, as well as the wines of the Loire Valley in France. The wines it produces are well-respected and viewed by many as a strong contender to the revered place held by Chardonnay in the pantheon of white wines.
The scent and taste of Sauvignon Blanc wines are usually described using somewhat sour vegetative terms, such as cut grass or nettle. The most famous description of Sauvignon Blanc’s unique flavor is undoubtedly “cats’ pee on a gooseberry bush,” and while many find the description somewhat revolting, most who consider it while tasting find a certain amount of accuracy in it. Like many white wines, Sauvignon Blanc is made to be drunk while very young, lending to its popularity among white wine drinkers. Over time, the flavors become fairly stale, and most tasters recommend drinking it as young as it is feasible.
Within France, Sauvignon Blanc was not particularly popular until the mid-1960s, when the wine-drinking elite decided that the wines of Pouilly Fumé and Sancerre were worth acclaim. In California, Sauvignon Blanc was pushed into the role of a lesser wine until Robert Mondavi decided to use the grape in his own attempt at a great, Pouilly Fumé style wine. He named the resulting wine Fumé Blanc to reflect its origins, and for the past thirty years that name is often used in the United States in place of Sauvignon Blanc.
Sauvignon Blanc is also used fairly widely in making sweeter wines, because it is quite susceptible to the noble rot that allows sugar to reach higher levels within grapes on the vine. Though not as popular as sweet wines made from Gewurztraminer or Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc sweet wines nonetheless have a substantial following.
While France has a fairly strong claim to superior wines of virtually every varietal, with any challenge to that claim being met with derision and scorn from at least a sizable portion of the wine community, in Sauvignon Blanc another growing region has stepped up as the clear master of the grape. Not California, nor Italy, but rather New Zealand’s Marlborough region is widely hailed as the greatest producer of Sauvignon Blanc. Cloudy Bay Vineyards wines produced from this grape are considered by most to be the pinnacle examples of this varietal. There are clear differences between the French take on Sauvignon Blanc and many New World approaches. In general, the French Sauvignon Blanc tends more towards a dryness full of mineral flavors, while cooler wines, such as those from New Zealand, have a much more noticeable sweetness and definite accents of fruit.