11 Sauvignon Blancs To Bring To a Dinner Party
This light, crisp white makes a stylish dinner companion.
Photograph by Erin Brooke Burns
With some embarrassment I admit I used to hate sauvignon blanc. It’s true, I really did. Around the time I really started getting into wine, New Zealand sauvignon blanc was just emerging as the next big thing. Unfortunately, around that time most sauvignon blancs tended to intense, grassy, herbaceous notes along with grapefruit and, yes, cat pee on a gooseberry bush. Does that sound appealing? It certainly didn’t to me.
Sauvignon blanc is one of the greats in the pantheon of wine grapes. It is lighter and crisper than many other white grapes, but at the same time very recognizable for its melon or gooseberry aromas, and what some might call nettles, herbaceous or even capsicum-style characteristics (think jalapeno peppers or bell peppers). I enjoy them best when they have bright melon notes, lime and just a touch of olive or jalapeno for a little kick.
Wine regions that produce sauvignon blanc
One of the truly international varieties, it is found planted in most wine-producing regions, from Europe and South Africa to the Americas. Some parts of the world are more well-known for their sauvignon blanc than others, and, in general, the grape appears on its own on the wine label. It can be blended, but, aside from white Bordeaux, where it is blended with smillon, it usually only has a very small portion of blending grapes added to round out its distinctive flavours or aromas. It also generally doesn’t handle a lot of oak well. Sauvignon blanc is a popular grape for dessert wines, notably the sticky Sauternes of Bordeaux, but our attention today is on table wine.
In 1968, American wine pioneer Robert Mondavi came up with the term “fum blanc” to help sell some excess sauvignon blanc. At the time, sauvignon blanc wasn’t a marquee grape. Hell, California wasn’t really a marquee wine region then, and looking overseas to the French producers in Pouilly-Fum, he found a new name that resonated with his consumers and fum blanc was born. Today, choosing to put fum blanc on the label over sauvignon blanc is typically a marketing decision rather than a winemaking one, though fum is often lightly oaked or has some of the enthusiasm of the grape dialled down.
It is in New Zealand where the grape seems to shine brightest. The cool and dry climate of Marlborough, along with the sunny weather, seems to allow sauvignon blanc produced here to turn the dial up to 11 for herbaceous styling. While this is certainly the most recognizable style of sauvignon blanc, other parts of the world from Spain to South Africa make notable ones, too. American examples typically favour melon fruit, while Chilean ones lean toward apple and mineral. Closer to home, Canada experiments with it to good effect, but in smallish amounts. British Columbia, for example, has just under 400 acres planted, which seems to be enough to fulfill our need for locally grown sauvignon blanc.
Storing and pairing
Although sauvignon blanc rarely improves with age, some wines do evolve over time and even improve. Putting oak- or barrel-aged examples aside, sauvignon blanc by itself tends to mature in the cellar in strange ways, becoming nutty or moving away from being generally recognizable, the result becoming academically interesting rather than pleasant to drink.
Pairing sauvignon blanc with a meal is very easy since sauvignon blanc generally works with most seafood or poultry dishes. The best thing to remember is, if you can garnish the dish with a lemon, sauvignon blanc will probably work. Sauvignon blanc can be served quite cold, even straight from the fridge, if desired. Most bottles are best enjoyed fresh, young and with all those youthful flavours we love.
11 sauvignon blancs to try
Valdez 2012 El Diablo Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley, California
About half of this wine was barrel fermented, adding a subtle vanilla tone to crisp lime and apple fruits, melon and a slightly honeyed finish. Very tasty and should shine with poultry or flaky seafood. $39.
Greywacke 2011 Wild Ferment Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand
Quite dark for sauvignon blanc, the wild ferment refers to the use of “wild” rather than inoculated yeasts, which can sometimes lead to unpredictable results. Yeasty on the nose, with hefty lemon notes, ginger, biscuit, yellow apple and lemon grass, the palate is consistent but rich and with a long, textured finish. Unique and delicious. $43.
Miguel Torres 2013 Santa Digna Sauvignon Blanc, Curico, Chile
Fully “Fair Trade” certified, this great buy has citrus and herb, recognizable grassy notes and a touch of mineral aroma. Very clean and consistent on the palate, it’s a nice example of sauvignon blanc from another part of the world. $15.
Domaine Fouassier 2013 Les Romains Sancerre, Loire, France
Expect beautiful and expressive fruits with lemon, tart apple, a bit of grapefruit and a slightly honeyed finish. It’s a wonderful reminder of what sauvignon blanc can taste like from another part of the world. $29.
Greywacke 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand
Packed with melon and citrus, this shows undercurrents of dill, jalapeno, grass and bell pepper. Palate-wise, it has wonderful acidity and a long, juicy finish with a subtle layer of sour apple. $30.
Joseph Mellot 2013 “Le Tronsec” Pouilly Fum, Loire, France
This is a captivating glass of wine with sleek mineral, lemon rind and crushed apples, as well as those bright, grassy notes you want in a sauvignon blanc. A dignified wine, perfect for oysters, shellfish or even stronger cheeses. $34.
Calliope 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, British Columbia
From the Wyse Family of Burrowing Owl fame comes the Calliope label. The sauvignon blanc shines with fresh melon, a touch of lime juice and a little bit of passion fruit and gooseberry with just the right amount of acidity. Very pretty juice. $22.
Township 7 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Okanagan Valley, B.C.
Citrus rather than melon carries the day here, in a sauvignon blanc that is tropical over herbal or grassy. It might be the six per cent muscat co-fermented with the sauvignon blanc, but either way it happened, and it’s good. Pair with white fish or creamy sauces. $20.
Peter Yealands 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand
Fresh-cut grass, lemon, melons and gooseberries lead the nose, while bright grassy notes dominate the palate. Look for fresh herbal flavours, more melon notes and a bit of that capsicum zing. Big, but very refreshing. $19.
Chteau St. Jean 2012 Fum Blanc, Sonoma County, California
Slightly creamy in the mouth, the wine is balanced, zingy and versatile. Look for apples and lemon/lime fruits with only a touch of oak noticeable, with a mild honey vanilla finish. Pair with seafood from halibut to salmon, or even goat cheese. $19.
Isabel Estate 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand
This is perfectly identifiable as a New Zealand example, with cut grass, gooseberry, bell pepper, olive, capsicum and citrus through and through. In the mouth, it’s layered and complex with great acidity, and will work very nicely with richer seafood dishes. $29.