Sauvignon Blanc – Grass or crass?

Sauvignon Blanc – Grass or crass?

If you have tasted a Sauvignon Blanc and thought it was wonderful or thought it was terrible, you might not have the same reaction the next time you taste one. Depending on where and how it was made, it can be a different wine.

In the August 2012 edition of Food & Wine magazine, Ray Isle has a very good article on the many flavors of Sauvignon Blanc. He is quick to say that this is a love it or hate it kind of wine. In fact, Mr. Isle says his wife can’t stand the stuff. My wife is picky about them, and I know people who won’t drink them at all. The Food & Wine article has a chart that points out the differing styles and flavors depending on the climate where the grapes were grown.

I have seen this wine’s taste described as cat urine on a gooseberry bush. Fortunately, this is a sensation I have managed to avoid. Many California versions are said to be grassy, tasting like fresh mown grass or hay. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has developed a reputation for very grapefruity SB’s. Some of them are, but I believe the style of these wines has been aggressive, rather than simply grapefruity. I have had a couple of SB’s from different regions that nearly had me looking for grapefruit pulp in the glass. So grapefruit can be an overpowering characteristic. Sauvignon Blanc is very prominent in the Loire region of France. Sancerre and Pouilly Fume’ might be the most well-known SB’s in France. Pouilly Fume’ has a crisp, flinty, citrusy character. Right across the river is Sancerre, which is less flinty, and has flavors of peach and gooseberry.

The Food & Wine chart shows SB ranging from green pepper or gooseberry flavors in cold climates to melon flavors in warm climates. This is why you can get so many different flavors from the same grape. The best examples have more than one flavor, although it is hard to find all the characteristics in just one wine. So it seems like the best way to figure out what SB you like is to taste them. Pretty much all SB has an acidic crispness to it, which makes it a very food-friendly wine. I happen to like a grassy style with grilled shrimp. Citrusy versions with flavors of lemon and grapefruit are great with lighter summer fare. Most of the dislike (hatred?) of Sauvignon Blanc seems to be aimed at the green pepper/gooseberry side of the spectrum. A good wine retailer can help with your choices so you can avoid this if it is not your thing.

In his article, Ray tells us the New Zealanders seem to be changing the style of their wines a bit. As I mentioned, the wines tend to be pretty aggressive, and some top wineries are beginning to rein this in some. This is probably a good thing, because of the reputation of New Zealand SB’s, people could be looking elsewhere for their Sauvignon Blanc.

The other thing to look for in a Sauvignon Blanc is wood or no wood. Barrel fermentation and/or barrel aging of SB have been hotly debated in the past. I was once told that there was an organization in California called the SOB’s. The Sons Of Blanc were dead set against oak being used in the making of Sauvignon Blanc. Most SB in this country does not see any oak. In California, if oak is used the wine will often be called Fume’ Blanc. This term was supposedly invented by the Robert Mondavi winery several decades ago. Among the other wineries using the term is Ferrari Carano in Sonoma County. They make a very approachable, softer version which is very good.

What all this means is if you like white wine, Sauvignon Blanc should be on your list of wines to pair with the right foods. Careful and dedicated research, i.e. drinking several different SB’s, will tell you which ones you like best.

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