Sauvignon Blanc

The name sauvignon comes from the French sauvage, meaning “wild.” It’s a fitting name for a vine that, if left to its own devices, would grow with riotous abandon. Riotous, untamed and wild can also describe sauvignon’s flavors. Straw, hay, grass, smoke, green tea, green herbs, lime, and gunflint charge around in your mouth with wonderful intensity. The wine appears almost linear on the palate, with a clean, keen stiletto of acidity that vibrates through the center of the wine. Some sauvignons push the envelope even further, taking on a feral acrid character wine pros describe as cat pee. (This is usually considered a positive attribute). The best, most outrageous, tangy sauvignons come from the Loire Valley of France (Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé), from New Zealand, and from Austria. On the heels of these come the sauvignons from South Africa and Chile. In Bordeaux, virtually all white wines are made from a blend of sauvignon blanc plus sémillon. In blending the two, sauvignon’s tart herbalness is mellowed by sémillon’s broad, honeyed character. Blending the two is also sometimes done in California and Australia. Despite the assumption that sauvignon blanc probably originated in Bordeaux, most leading geneticists believe the grape to have begun life in the Loire Valley. One of its parents was probably savagnin; the other is unknown. (For its part sauvignon blanc, with the help of co-parent cabernet franc, beget cabernet sauvignon.) One of the widespread synonyms for sauvignon blanc is blanc fumé or fumé blanc (the latter term is widely used in California, for example). This is purely a synonym; and it’s not true that as a group, wines labeled fumé blanc have an especially smoky character. When sauvignon blanc is poorly made, it tastes vegetal– like canned asparagus or the water that artichokes have been boiled in. Sauvignon blanc can become vegetal if it’s made from unripe grapes. This could happen, for example, if the vines were planted in wet, fertile, poorly drained soil, or if the vines were allowed to grow out of control, or if the grapes simply did not receive enough sunlight for proper photosynthesis.

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