The wine grape sauvignon blanc has never been more popular: it's planted on more than 275,000 acres of vineyards all over the world. Odds are that you’ve had a sip or more in your glass at some point. You may even have a bottle in your wine rack right now and not know it—because depending to where it’s grown, it may go by other names. Get familiar with the many faces of sauvignon blanc and learn which regional styles you like most.
‘Wild Wine’: France’s Loire Valley
Do you like Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé? These famous French wines are both made of sauvignon blanc, although it may not say so on the label. Sauvignon blanc gets its name from the French word sauvage meaning "wild," because it was an indigenous grape growing in the Loire Valley and throughout southwest France. The Loire produces more white wine than any other French region, and sauvignon blanc is one of its classic grapes for the region's characteristically fresh, mineral wines. Sancerre has a good dose of citrus flavor (think underripe grapefruit) and some green notes like cut grass, herbs, and green bell pepper. The wines of Pouilly-Fumé have a little flinty ‘gunpowder’ smokiness (the word fumé means smoke). Enjoy a glass of Loire sauvignon blanc with its perfect partner—goat cheese.
TRY: Pascal Jolivet Sancerre 2016, $28; Gerard & Pierre Morin Sancerre Blanc "Vieille Vignes" 2015, $26; François Le Saint Pouilly-Fumé 2016, $21
An Unexpected Treat: Bordeaux Blanc
Bordeaux is so famous for rich and decadent red wines that many people don’t realize the region also produces white wines. We don’t mind that white Bordeaux is a well-kept secret, because the level of quality for the relatively low price of these wines makes them an affordable luxury. Sauvignon blanc is the main white grape in Bordeaux, and it’s typically blended with the semillon grape, which has a creamier, almost waxy texture and none of the ‘green’ notes of sauvignon blanc; so Bordeaux Blanc is richer in texture and has more honeyed aromas than the sauvignon blanc bottlings from the Loire. It’s often aged in oak barrels to round it out even more. The classic pairing for Bordeaux Blanc is oysters. Mussels are another delicious option.
TRY: Domaines Barons de Rothschild Legende Bordeaux Blanc 2015, $18; Chateau Graville-Lacoste Graves Blanc 2016, $16; Lune d'Argent, Clos des Lunes Bordeaux Blanc 2011, $23
California Dreamin’: Fumé Blanc and Beyond
The king of white grapes in California is indisputably chardonnay but thanks to the efforts of wine legend Robert Mondavi, there are also some incredibly delicious sauvignon blancs being produced. Until the late 1960s, Californian sauvignon blanc was very sweet and generally low quality. Mondavi was a fan of the grape, but didn’t think he could overcome its poor reputation in California so he took inspiration from the Pouilly-Fumé wines from the Loire and labeled his sauvignon blanc as ‘fumé blanc.’ The fresh name, and the fact that he aged the wine in oak barrels, giving it added depth and richness, created new demand for California sauvignon blanc. Today fumé blanc wines will still be aged in oak. but wines labeled sauvignon blanc may be aged in oak or steel—it’s the winemaker’s choice. Thanks to all that California sunshine, the wines have more fleshy and ripe fruit notes than their old world counterparts; if you’ve been turned off by the more austere style of some French sauvignon blanc, you may just love the styles being made in California.
TRY: Oberon Sauvignon Blanc 2016, $17; Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2016, $25; Inglenook Sauvignon Blanc 2016, $35; Lail Vineyards ‘Blueprint’ Sauvignon Blanc 2016, $38
The Southern Hemisphere: Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand
In the world’s easternmost and southernmost winemaking country, the climate is ideal for sauvignon blanc. Abundant sunshine helps the grapes ripen while the consistently cool evenings keep things fresh and vibrant. The first grapevines in New Zealand were planted from French clippings back in the 1830s, but it wasn’t until iconic New Zealand winery Cloudy Bay released their signature sauvignon blanc in 1985 that New Zealand really became known as a world-class wine producer. New Zealand sauvignon blanc is bright, racy, and has a high acid profile so the wines are very crisp, with very intense aromas of ripe grapefruit, passion fruit, key lime, and herbs. Enjoy with sushi or Asian-style shrimp salad.
TRY: Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2017, $29; Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc 2016, $18; Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2017, $25