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What’s special about Sauvignon Blanc

With its origins in France, you would think that the Loire, the traditional home of Sauvignon Blanc, known as Sancerre locally, would be responsible for the popularity of this vibrant wine varietal. However, this is not the case.

New Zealand burst on the international scene in the 1980s with an extravagantly forceful, fruity style of Sauvignon Blanc and has never looked back. It landed New Zealand on the international wine stage. Even though New Zealand produces just 1% of the world’s wine, it reigns as the “Sauvignon Blanc capital of the world. It is home to nearly 21,000 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc vines.

Zest and Zing

Sauvignon Blanc tastes very different to other white wines, most notably Chardonnay, predominantly because the smell is sharp and piercing complemented by a juicy, yet zesty, citrus zing in your mouth. The wines are in general designed to be drunk as young as possible, although some producers are experimenting with age oaked barrel-fermented variants. Whether it is Sancerre or Sauvignon Blanc this wine is known as a refreshing dry wine that has a great minerality, aromas and tastes of herbs and grasses and a nice crisp finish.

The principal flavours you will find in any glass of Sauvignon Blanc are lime, green apple, passion fruit and white peach. Depending on the region where the wine is produced the ‘zest’ factor will be more pronounced. This is typical of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. The Wall Street Journals’ wine columnist Will Lyons described it as  “packed full of energy, like an electrical current running across your tongue with a real zippy zing!”

Sauvignon Blanc Wine Characteristics

FRUIT FLAVORS (berries, fruit, citrus)

Lime, Green Apple, Asian Pear, Kiwi, Passionfruit, Guava, White Peach, Nectarine

OTHER AROMAS (herb, spice, flower, mineral, earth, other)

Green Bell Pepper, Gooseberry, Basil, Jalapeño, Grass, Tarragon, Lovage, Celery, Lemongrass, Box of Chalk, Wet Concrete

Source: Wine Folly, About Sauvignon Blanc Wine

So what the hell is this ‘Cat Pee’ About?

You may have occasionally heard, and too often in my book, a common term used to describe Sauvignon Blanc wines as akin to ‘cat’s pee.’ That’s meant to be appealing right? Well no it isn’t. “How many of these people have tasted cat urine?!” I hope not many. What they are actually referring to is a certain funky tanginess, reminiscent of the smell of guava. The smell of Sauvignon (which is most of its character) is relatively simple, so it is not surprising that it was one of the first to be explained regarding the dominant flavour compounds, called methoxypyrazines. This is what they are referring to when they describe it as cat’s pee, but let’s not dwell too much on that. Moving on…

Blending Sauvignon Blanc

While there is no doubt that Sauvignon Blanc is a perfect wine as is, it lends itself to be blended with a fatter yet complementary varietal called Semillion. It’s a modern take on a class White Bordeaux Blend. It is most widely produced in France, where both Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are well-established varieties, but has caught on in Australia’s Margaret River as well as New Zealand. In fact, a favourite of ours is produced by New Zealand Waipara winery Pegasus Bay.  This blend tends to be rich and concentrated in the mouth but still has that kick of a zesty, dry, crisp finish. It’s worth a try.

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc- Where to from here?

The explosive flavours of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc have dazzled wine critics throughout the world, setting the international benchmark for the style. This year Marlborough hosted the inaugural International Sauvignon Blanc Celebration. Held across three days, it shone the spotlight on the complexity of Sauvignon Blanc and some emerging styles. It highlighted regional variations and the diversity that is on offer from New Zealand.


Photo: Oz Clarke, Wine Judge. Source: 

The world has fallen in love with New Zealand Sauvignon, in particular, the Marlborough style. It was as OZ Clark pointed out in his opening address at SB 2016, a wine that speaks so entirely of a sense of place. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc disrupted the wine world from the beginning. There is no doubt that the passion and innovation of this industry will continue to excite and delight the world of wine. We can’t wait to see what the future holds.

If you want to know what’s so special about New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, then take a moment to listen to Oz Clarke’s opening address here:

He opened, “I know exactly when I first discovered that Sauvignon Blanc has a sense of place.” and continued “My world of wine would never be the same again. Nobody’s world of wine would ever be the same again!”