Food & Drink 

Sauvignon blanc

The new red is white

If, like me, you believe that the new red wine is white, sauvignon blanc is positioned just right to take advantage of what should be a natural pendulum swing that’s already leading opinion makers and wine sippers away from red and back to white wine this spring.

It’s more than just being white that makes sauvignon blanc so attractive. When it’s grown on a cool site and handled in a specific manner sauvignon delivers big flavour in the glass. And it’s the strong flavour elements that should attract red wine drinkers (already used to big flavours) back to the white wine camp and sauvignon in particular.

Globally, sauvignon blanc has undergone changes centred upon oak – as in using less of it – and in a similar vein using less cork due to more screwcaps and synthetic closures. All of the above is designed to deliver more fruit to your glass.

In fact most sauvignon falls into three categories; the pure varietal or un-wooded style with crisp acidity; a lightly oaked version combining some portion of barrel fermented juice (in mostly neutral French oak) with tank fermented juice that makes a slightly richer, more complex wine; and the fading fast old-school, full-blown barrel fermented, toasted oak and lees style that has more to do with chardonnay than sauvignon.

In the same manner that the riesling renaissance had to be jump-started outside of its German home base, interest in sauvignon blanc is being rekindled outside of its French home sites of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé by the likes of Marlborough, New Zealand, Casablanca, Chile, coastal South Africa and California.

It’s not to say Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé or Touraine have gone unnoticed because repeatedly the "best" sauvignons tasted from outside of France are described as being Sancerre or Pouilly Fume-like. The problem is many young consumers are unaware that Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé and Touraine are all made from sauvignon blanc.

Let’s take a closer look at what the global interlopers are doing in detail.

The Napa Valley style, when done right, more closely resembles the Loire style with its smoky, mineral, pear and green apple flavours, leaner structure and higher acidity.

In Chile everyone is heading for the coast, and while Casablanca has a beachhead on sauvignon blanc three hours to the north, in the fog-shrouded Limari Valley, sauvignon blanc is coming alive. The best Chilean sauvignons are round, fresh and fruity, although not necessarily as complex as their global brethren.

Not to be dismissed this time around is Australia, in particular the revolution in the Adelaide Hills. Super fresh examples from Shaw and Smith, Nepenthe, David O’Leary, Longview, Penfolds, Wolf Blass and many more are redefining this varietal in Oz. All are in screwcap, a closure seemingly perfected for the delicate fresh fruit character of sauvignon.

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