A Deep Dive Into Sauvignon Blanc, aka “Wild White” aka “Sexy Sauv”
What do you think of when you think Sauvignon Blanc? Great wine with a hard to pronounce name, perhaps? While the name can be tricky to say- pronounced “soh-vin-yohn-blahnk”, we call it Sexy Sauv “sexy savv”- the wine that’s produced from this green-skinned grape variety is no doubt delicious. Some of the very best crisp white wines are made from Sauv Blanc.
WHERE DID IT COME FROM?
Sauvignon Blanc originates from the Loire Valley, located in the middle stretch of the Loire river in central France and the Bordeaux region. One of Sauv Blanc’s parents was the ancient grape Savagnin. This makes it a sibling of Grüner Veltliner, Chenin Blanc, Silvaner, and Verdelho, among several other grapes that originated in central France. It is not clear who the other parent was. Sauv Blanc is a robust vine and can adapt to all kinds of growing environments. It often buds late, but ripens early and does well in sunny climates that are not exposed to overwhelming heat.
Like a lot of us, Sauv Blanc wanted to see the world when it grew up, and now it’s grown all over the world in places like Australia, Moldova, Romania, Spain, Argentina, Hungary, Bulgaria, Austria and more. The best Sauv Blanc comes from France, California, New Zealand and Chile.
HEADING WEST TO CALIFORNIA
Sauv Blanc was first planted in the Livermore Valley, east of San Francisco in the 19th century by newspaper-journalist-turned-winemaker Charles Wetmore. He went to the prestigious wine estates in France for cuttings of Sauv Blanc. Those cutting (now called clone 1) became the basis for vineyards all over California.
THE “WILD WHITE”
Sauv Blanc is a wild child. It got its name from the French words sauvage (“wild”), vigne (“vine”) and blanc (“white”). This wine sure gets wild...especially on a warm Friday night. It also goes by several other names like Fumé Blanc-made in the U.S., Muskat-Silvaner- made in Austria, and Feigentraube- made in Germany.
THE MAKING OF SAUV BLANC
Sauv Blanc is usually whole-cluster pressed, that means grapes and stems. The grape juice is then moved to either 100% stainless steel container or a combination of barrel and stainless steel. Dry Sauv Blancs are usually fermented at relatively low temperatures in stainless steel rather than oak, which contributes to the crisp texture. If a portion of the fermentation process happens in barrels, the wine will exhibit a creamier texture and richer flavors. Sauv Blanc is an expressive wine and too much fermentation in barrels will lead to a loss in the fruit characteristics and or add too much of the barrel flavors.
You can also make Sauv Blanc into Sauternes, a sweet botrytized wine. Botrytis or the “noble rot” is a type of fungus that shrivels or decays wine grapes. It reduces the water content and increases the concentration of sugar and flavor complexity. Most Sauv Blanc is either dry, or made with small amounts of residual sugar for a slightly “off-dry” take.
The characteristics can vary depending on choices made by the winemaker. The length of time the juice is in contact with the grape skins has an effect on the intensity of the wine. The temperature during fermentation also plays an important factor. Warmer temperature creates more minerality, cooler temperature accentuates tropical fruit, citrus notes, and acidity.
ONCE IT HITS YOUR LIPS...
Sauv Blanc is renowned for its brilliant and refreshing acidity and has a crisp, elegant, refreshing flavor. The best wines exhibit a balanced acidity. The wine can exhibit flavors of gooseberry, honeydew, grapefruit, lime, passionfruit, peach, elderflower, fresh herbs, green grass, green peppers and jalapeño.
Since this grape is grown in many parts of the world, its flavor depends on the climate. When grown in cooler climates like France and New Zealand the wine has noticeable “green flavors” of grass and green pepper. When grown in warmer climates, like California, Australia and South Africa the wine tends to develop more tropical fruit notes.
Dry Sauv Blanc usually tastes like it smells with flavors of lime and grapefruit, passion fruit, white peach, and bell pepper. If aged in oak ballers, it will have vanilla and riper tropical fruit notes.
The “green flavors” come from a group of organic flavor compounds called pyrazines. The riper the grape gets the fewer pyrazine flavors there are and the more tropical flavors appear. Another group of chemical compounds called thiols is responsible for characteristics like grapefruit and passionfruit.
DON'T LET THE CAT PEE IN YOUR WINE...
Thiols are also the compound responsible for the more unusual cat pee flavor. Thiols are formed during the fermentation process and on occasion, when the conditions are just right, there is one thiol that is similar to cat pee. This is usually an anomaly in wines produced in New Zealand’s Marlborough region and strangely a desirable one. If this sounds unappealing to you don’t worry, most likely you won’t know the taste because you probably haven’t tasted cat pee. The people that can recognize the cat pee flavor...have had to, ahem, try cat pee. The real mystery here is, why are people trying cat pee...and if you haven’t tried it, how do you know that the flavor is cat pee?
SAUV BLANC HAS A CHILD?
Yup. Sauvignon Blanc got together with Cabernet Franc a while back and now they co-parent the popular Cabernet Sauvignon.
THE CALORIES, SUGAR, AND ALCOHOL CONTENT
Because Sauv Blanc is usually made as a dry wine it is low in sugar. After the grapes are pressed, the sugar from the grapes is converted into alcohol by yeast. When all of the sugar is converted, it creates a dry wine. At times little residual sugar is left behind. A few grams per liter of residual sugar is still considered a dry wine. Wine, of course, is alcohol and that has calories, even if the wine has no sugar. Typically, a 5-ounce serving, equal to one glass of wine, has around 120 calories, and there’s around 620 calories in a typical 750ml bottle. Dry wines usually range between zero and 4 grams of carbohydrates. The alcohol content is usually light to moderately- 12.5%- 14% alcohol by volume, depending on the climate it was grown in.
DON'T DELAY, DRINK AWAY!
As with most expressive whites, Sauv Blanc is a wine that’s meant to be enjoyed young, wild, and free. Rather than storing it away for years, pop that baby open immediately, asap- no, just kidding, not that quick, but ideally within the same year you bought it. Enjoy it chilled. This wine is made to be refreshing and it should dance on your tongue. Stick it in the fridge for at least an hour before serving. And if it’s a warm day, keep it on ice, ice baby!
FOOD AND MOOD PAIRINGS
Sauvignon blanc is very food-friendly and pairs well with soft, flavorful cheeses like goat cheese, burrata, mozzarella goat gouda, feta, parmesan, and green vegetables, seafood, and dishes where the flavors are light and citrusy. It’s also one of the wines that pairs well with sushi.
This is a wine that also pairs well with feeling sexy in your skin, loving your outfit, wanting to celebrate yourself, your accomplishments, and your friends, winding down from your day, a lazy summer day by the pool or at the beach, a great movie, and a sexy playlist.