Wine Ink: Savvy about Savvy … the other white wine
It’s the season when things start to turn green on this, the northern side of the equator. And that makes me think about the green-tinged sauvignon blanc grapes that make the wines of the same name. While much of the buzz right now is all about rosé, spring, and even more so summer, are seasons when the subtlety and beauty of sauvignon blanc also fits perfectly.
Strangely, in some ways sauvignon blanc can be an anomaly. On the one hand it is one of the world’s most popular grapes, with over 300,000 acres planted across the globe. That makes it the third most widely grown white wine grape trailing only airén (a Spanish varietal that is not often found outside its homeland) and the ever popular chardonnay. But there are those who find the usually dry-style wines or perhaps the herbal, green flavors of sauvignon blanc to be a bit off-putting.
To those I say try, try again. Because sauvignon blanc wines, properly chilled, can be the perfect accompaniment to any number of fresh summer foods. Fresh seafood like oysters and grilled whitefish sing when paired with a fresh glass of Sancerre or a Pouilly-Fumé, two names for sauvignon blanc wines from bordering regions in France. The spicy flavors found in Asian foods from China or Thailand can not only be tamed by a lighter alcohol version of a New Zealand “savvy,” as the Kiwis call the grape, but enhanced by the tropical notes in the wine.
It is perhaps the crispness, the tartness, the hallmark of a young sauvignon blanc that can make it a bit of a challenge for those who prefer the more rounded flavor profiles of, say, a buttery, oaked chardonnay. But if you are ready for the tastes of the season, the citrus fruits, fresh melons, green apples, and the flavors of a place, say, Chile, which has become a leader in the production of the grape, or South Africa, then the time is ripe.
That’s the thing about sauvignon blanc; it is just so versatile. Sourced from Bordeaux, the grape’s ancestral home, it can be elegant and refined. In the Loire Valley, a land of castles and sunshine in the north central part of France, the wines can be resplendent with that sense of stone and soils that define minerality. Grown in New Zealand, which basically established an entire wine industry on the grape, there can be pleasing tropical and herbaceous flavors in the wines that grow in the summer sun of the southern hemisphere. Versions from California, Napa and Sonoma in particular can be inspiring, with crisp acidity that make them perfect pairing wines for meals.
Originating in Western France, the grape is the parent of the red cabernet sauvignon grape. Somehow sauvignon blanc married cabernet franc and the new varietal, the most popular of all vitis vinifera (the family of grapes with European origin that are used to make wine all over the world) was born. To this day the white wines of Bordeaux are built on sauvignon blanc — which takes its name from the words sauvage (“wild”) and blanc (“white”) — the wild white grapes that grew with reckless abandon throughout the region. The elegance and richness of the wines from, say, the Pessac-Leognan region, which marry semillon and sauvignon blanc, are among the most beautiful wines on Earth.
While ancient, it was in the late 1980s that sauvignon blanc suddenly had a moment as a global wine of the times that continues to this day. On New Zealand’s South Island there was a push by major wineries like Montana (now known as Brancott) and Cloudy Bay to make sauvignon blanc in a fresh new style. The fruit-forward, citrusy, tropical and, yes, grassy flavors in the wine, coupled with a low price made it a huge hit with first British, and then American consumers. For nearly 30 years the New Zealand wine industry has grown sales each year thanks to early introduction of Kiwi savvy to the rest of the wine world.
Savvys are meant to be drunk young, the 2018s are just about to be released. Almost all of the big houses in America produce a version and the flood of young sauvignon blanc in the marketplace guarantees that there are great values to be had. For $18 or less, the price of a glass of premium wine in a bar or restaurant, you can buy a bottle of sauvignon blanc that will be great with some cheese or perhaps a piece of sautéed fish with a salad.
Enjoy your rosé. But don’t forget to be savvy.
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