Where Have You Been, Sauvignon Blanc?

May is like the Monopoly equivalent of a “Get out of Jail Free” card liberating us from our stale houses and sending us out into the fresh air. Though spring may be a tough act to follow, June becomes the star of the show and the gateway to summer.

Aside from suffering through annoying springtime allergies, May and June are among my favorite months. The verdant greens, the vibrancy of new blossoms and the freshness in the air leave me with great expectations for the summer ahead. Hope springs eternal.

Having said arrivederci to winter and the hearty, warming red wines, it’s time to answer the doorbell to fresh whites and rosé wines and usher in the welcomed warmer weather. I have recently rediscovered sauvignon blanc, having previously banished it for three life sentences to the metaphorical equivalent of Alcatraz, favoring Chardonnay or other richer tasting whites. However, no varietal shows more tonal, flavor and ripeness range than sauvignon blanc. In a warm climate like California, the wines often boast tropical fruit flavors like pineapple, guava, mango, passion fruit and grapefruit under a bright, but lushly satisfying texture. They are also easy to find as they sport their varietal name. Fumé Blanc, a moniker created by the late Robert Mondavi, is also 100 percent sauvignon blanc. Robert had trouble selling his way back when and decided to give it a French sounding name as many Americans equated French words with quality; it worked! Hence, the birth of Fumé Blanc.

The antithesis of warm climate white wines would of course be cool climate white wines, such as those from New Zealand, which often show under-ripe green flavors, like asparagus, green beans, celery, green pepper and freshly cut grass, and if that’s your thing, go ahead and go green! But, somewhere in the middle lies the sauvignon blanc from France that I enjoy most, where flavors are of more moderate fruits. What is a moderate fruit, you ask? Apple, pear, lemon and lime are examples. These wines are often lower in alcohol and nicely balanced which makes them very food friendly and pleasant to drink. White Bordeaux is the classic version of sauvignon blanc, often with the addition of sémillon which adds richness to the wines. These robust dry whites pair well with many main courses and appetizers alike.

The Loire Valley in France has several outstanding versions of sauvignon blanc, although you rarely see the varietal name on the label. Look for Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé which are both 100 percent sauvignon blanc and are known for their high quality and food friendliness. They are renowned for their superb match with Loire Valley produced goat cheese. Though it’s true that some of the most famous and expensive sauvignon blancs can age fairly well, most taste best within three years of the vintage for optimum freshness and vibrancy, which is the hallmark of this grape. So don’t let these fresh-faced beauties get any dust on them.

Notable grape growing regions for sauvignon blanc are California, France, Chile, New Zealand and South Africa. Most wine professionals would consider the wines overall to be crisp, fruit forward, refreshing and elegant. Sauvignon blanc is also known for its pairing ability with sushi, which is generally a difficult match for most wines.

In speaking of sauvignon blanc, I would be remiss to not mention Sauternes, which is arguably the most illustrious version of this varietal in the world. Sauternes is a wildly delicious dessert wine from the region of Bordeaux, France. It is almost always blended with sémillon, just like the dry whites from the region. To produce this luscious, sweet wine, the winemakers literally leave the grapes on the vine until they rot and develop something called “botrytis” or “noble rot”, a fungus-like compound that plays a huge role in the complexities of the finished product. Try one for yourself if you have never done so, though fair warning, they are pricey. Then get yourself a very manky, stinky-sock-smelling blue cheese to go along with it and despite the non-believers, the taste experience will be a revelation!

While there’s no doubt most of us will drink our share of rosé wines this summer, I will certainly be ringing the church bells for sauvignon blanc. Ding Dong.

Hello old friend, welcome back.


Written by Gordon Heins for the May issue of Celebrate Magazine.