I recently tasted 122 sauvignon blanc wines. Here is my personal selection of great versions of this wine. Tasting 122 sauvignon blanc wines from all over the world gives you a good impression of the grape variety. It shows that this is a grape that can have great character and that has a lot of personality. But it also shows you that the styles can vary greatly depending on where it is made and how it is made. I tasted these wines at the Concours Mondial du Sauvignon Blanc competition, alternatively called the Sauvignon Blanc Selection.
Sauvignon blanc is one of the most recognisable grape varieties. Perhaps that is what makes it so popular. It often has a fairly light body, with an aromatic character without being perfumed. One generally considers the Loire Valley, and in particular Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, to be the home of this grape variety. But it has become very popular elsewhere in France too as well as in many other countries, South Africa, Chile, the USA, just to mention a few.
This is a longer version of an article published on Forbes.com.
We tend to describe sauvignon blanc based on two families of aromatic compounds, the thiols and the methoxypyrazines. The thiols give sauvignon blanc its citrusy and tropical fruit aromas. The methoxypyrazines are responsible for the vegetal, “green” or herbaceous character, cut grass, green leaves and that cat thing we’ve all heard about.
However, the character can vary quite a bit but common denominators are a nose that is slightly aromatic, with freshly cut grass or green leaves notes, a bit towards the elderflower side, and with exotic fruit. In the mouth it has high acidity, the same style of slightly aromatic exotic fruit, crisp and crunchy. It is rarely oak aged although it can happen. You can read a more detailed profile of the sauvignon blanc grape here (our grape variety profile).
It is now planted around the world, and it continues to increase. Twenty years ago, there were 65,000 hectares in the world, and now there are 124,000 ha. France is the most important country with a little over 30,000 hectares, but not all that far ahead of number two, New Zealand.
Earlier this year I had the opportunity to taste over 120 different sauvignon blancs when I was in the jury of the wine competition called the Concours Mondial du Sauvignon, or the Sauvignon Blanc Selection, organised by the same people that run the CMB, Concours Mondial de Bruxelles. All in all, the judges tasted 1210 sauvignon blanc over four days. It took place in Franschhoek in South Africa, with good reason. South Africa is a great source for exciting sauvignon blanc.
Here are my personal favourites of the 122 wines I tasted. In a future article I will take a look at the overall medal-winners.
You don’t expect to see much sauvignon blanc in Spain. It is not a traditional Spanish variety. But in recent years it has been planted a bit all over the country. I was positively surprised by the Spanish sauvignon blancs.
- Casa de Illana Alma 2022, Ribera del Jucar, Castilla la Mancha. Very grassy, typical sauvignon nose, green leaves, lime. Same on the palate, very typical sauvignon, with fresh crisp acidity, lime, grass. A bit short on the finish.
- Santo Mateo 2021, Valencia. Hay colour, perfumed on the nose, quite elegant. Good body with crisp acidity, carambola fruit, a bit nice astringency. Long finish that is a bit hot.
- Inurrieta Orchidea Cuvée Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Navarra. Soft ripe nose, autumn flowers, ripe-ish apples. Intense on the palate, ripe yellow fruit. Very hot finish, saved by the quite ripe fruit and full body. Not quite what one expects but delicious.
- La Fura 2022, Emporda, Catalonia. A full-bodied sauvignon with yellow fruit.
Quincy, Loire Valley
Quincy is a neighbouring region to Sancerre in the upper Loire Valley. It is similar in style, with light body and typical grassiness.
- Domaine des Coudereaux 2022, Quincy. Good body with nice fresh-cut green fruits.
- Les Demoiselles Tatin, Domaine du Tremblay, Vieilles Vignes 2022, Quincy. A ripe stile with ripe apples and some honeyed notes, very dry and good freshness.
- Domaine du Coudray, Une pointe d’Authenticité 2022, Quincy. A peculiar style. Darker in colour with some oxidative character (very ripe apples). Perhaps fermented with some skin contact?
Austria is also a country that is not on the top of the list when you think of sauvignon blanc wine regions but the Steiermark (Styria) region makes quite a lot of it, with talent. The next Concours Mondial de Sauvignon Blanc will also take place in Steiermark.
- Silberberg Sauvignon Blanc 2022, Steiermark. Relatively full-bodies with a very good balance between fresh acidity and some astringency. Good expression of sauvignon blanc.
- Schloss Seggau Sauvignon Blanc 2022, Steiermark. Very fresh with cut green fruit, citrus. Long finish.
Marlborough, New Zealand
Marlborough in New Zealand has become one of the world leaders in sauvignon blanc. Sauvignon is by far the most planted grape variety in the country. The area has now reached 23,000 hectares after being only 2,400 hectares 20 years ago.
In general, the wines are in the more full-bodied style with more ripe fruit.
- Giesen The August Sauvignon Bland 2019, Marlborough. Nice round nose with ripe fruit, some honey and ripe peaches. Full-bodied, very fresh and balanced palate, some honeyed notes, dry and crisp, hint of wax. Will be lovely on the dinner table.
- Starborough 2021, Marlborough. Slightly more ripe colour (hay). Very expressive nose, very much sauvignon, green crunchy apples, a touch of sweet fruit. Good body, lots of green fruit, fresh, plenty of sauvignon character. Very good balance and expression.
- Ara Single Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2022, Marlborough. Classic grass and green leaf aromas. Clean grassy mouth, with grapefruit and carambola, classic again. Medium body. Nice expression.
- Delta Estate Hatters Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2022, Marlborough. Light with a fresh acidity, lime, some astringency, slightly edgy. Very typical.
- Whitehaven 2021, Marlborough. Typical “asparagus” nose with sweetish fruit on the palate. Nice balance and expression.
Touraine, Loire Valley
Touraine is a much more mixed appellation than the two famous ones in the upper Loire (Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé) with a variety of styles and grapes. Their sauvignongs are usually a bit lighter in style and sometimes with a very nice and clean sauvignon expression.
- Domaine Joël Delaunay 2022, Touraine. Light elegant aromatic nose with white flowers. Elderflower. Good balance in the mouth, lots of fresh green fruit. Quite intense. Long finish.
- Domaine des Echardières 2022, Touraine. Light elegant nose with green apples. Classic sauvignon aromatics with some herbs and grassiness. Lots of aromatic intensity on the palate, very sauvignon blanc-style. Long finish.
- Les Perruches 2022, Touraine. Deeper colour with some exotic fruit that continues in the relatively full-bodied palate. Crisp finish.
I only tasted a small number of German sauvignon blanc and found one favourite:
- Gutenberger Naturkind Sauvignon Bland 2020, Nahe. Intense aromatics on the nose with asparagus and green grass. Very intense aromatics on the palate with cut grass and asparagus. Almost a caricature, but on the right side of the limit. Very typical sauvignon.
Darling, South Africa
Sauvignon blanc is a very popular grape in South Africa. It is planted in several regions but Darling in particular has made it a favourite grape. This may seem curious, since Darling is towards the north, so warmer, neighbouring the famously warm and dry Swartland. But Darling is on the coast and influenced by the cool ocean currents.
- Contreberg Sauvignon Blanc 2021, Darling. Relatively ripe nose with some fresh melons. Nice freshness. Very good balance. Long.
- Gustus Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Darling. Comparatively deep colour, golden. Quite ripe and some sweetish fruit (but no sweetness in the wine!), ripe peaches. Nice body, very good balance, touch of (nice) bitterness, fresh yellow fruit. Eminently drinkable wine. Lingering.
- Gustus Sauvignon Blanc 2021, Darling. Grapefruit, gooseberry, very classic sauvignon. Good body, classic. Quite long.
- Hannuwa Amphora Sauvignon Blanc 2022, Darling. Classic grassy aromas, green apples. Good body, very green fruit, grass, green leaves. Classic.
Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy
In the northern Italian region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, neighbouring Slovenia, in the foothills of the Alpes, you can find some good sauvignon blanc. These examples were aged in wood.
- Sauvignon Blanc di Rosa Bosco 2021, Colli Orientali del Friuli. Ripe melons, waxy, touch of honey. Full-bodied, very high and fresh acidity, dry and mineral. Lots of character. ‘Dry honey’, unusual sauvignon. Long finish, with some (good) bitterness.
- Aquilis 2019, Friuli Aquileia. Possibly some reduction but nothing that is disturbing. Quite the opposite. Some honey and wax (maybe the reduction disappeared?). Quite good body with very citrusy acidity, a touch of waxiness. Quite long.
Vin de france, France
“Vin de France” is a denomination used for wines without a specific origin, so, in principle, they can come from anywhere in France. In practice, most come from the south. Most are fairly unassuming but you can also find more ambitious wines.
- L’Aile de Liouner 2022, vin de france. Quite distinct oak on the nose hiding a bit of the varietal character. Good body, very intense acidity with lime.
- Quarry de Sours 2020, vin de france. Oaky, caramel, toffee on the nose. Some sauvignon character. The oak is a bit dominant.
Vulkanland Steiermark, Austria
Vulkanland Steiermark is the south-eastern part of Steiermark (Styria). Sauvignon blanc is increasing in popularity and is the third most planted grape variety (but still with less than 200 ha).
- Frühwith Sauvignon Blanc 2022, Vulkanland Steiermark. Light elegant nose with some white flowers. Touch of grassiness. Very fresh and clean.
- Seyfried Sauvignon Blanc Oststeiermark 2021, Vulkanland Steiermark. Nice fruit on the nose, some ripe green melons. Good body, acidity which is a little bit fruit-candy (bonbons).
Traditionally, the dry whites of Bordeaux are a blend of sauvignon blanc, semillon and a touch of muscadelle. The proportions can vary greatly. You can find pure sauvignon as well as pure semillon but mostly they are blends with a dominant portion of sauvignon. They can be from different appellations, for example Bordeaux blanc, Graves, Entre-deux-Mers and others.
- Château Perron 2022, Graves, Bordeaux. Light fresh nose with a touch of grassiness. Green fruit, lemony acidity, dry, good balance.
- Château Le Grand Verdus 2022, Bordeaux. Light white flowers on the nose. Over-all good body and fresh acidity on the palate, with citrus fruit. Crisp fresh finish. Good balance.
- Château Belle Garde 2022, Bordeaux. A bit unusual sauvignon having more smoothness and perhaps a bit of oxidation (nothing wrong with that).
- Château Marjosse 2022, Bordeaux. Light fresh and flowery nose. Very crunchy. High acidity, intense, fairly well-balanced. Carambola fruit, exotic. Quite long.
Cape South Coast, South Africa
The Cape Winelands south coast stretches a couple of hours car drive east from Cape Town. It has become known as the cold-climate part of South Africa. It includes, for example, the Elgin and Walker Bay regions.
- Boschendal 1685 Sauvignon Blanc 2022, Cape South Coast. Nice expressive nose with some herbs and grass. Quite a bit of ripe yellow fruit too. Relatively intense and full-bodied, good sauvignon character. Long intense finish.
- Raka Sauvignon Blanc 2022, Cape South Coast. Nice herbal nose with freshness, a bit shy. Surprisingly round body with quite some crunchy ‘fat’ and lots of lime and carambola. Medium length.
- Walker Bay Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2022, Walker Bay. Quite aromatic, almost perfumed nose with flowers. Good body and acidity, quite a bit of astringency (giving freshness). Dry crisp finish.
Sparkling New Zealand
And to finish, one sparkling wine from New Zealand:
- Saint Clair Sauvignon Blanc Bubbles 2022, Marlborough. Nice sauvignon nose. Palate with gooseberry, green herbs, very good expression of sauvignon.
This was just a personal selection among the 122 sauvignon blanc wines I tasted. The whole competition included over 1200 wines. A forthcoming article will talk about the medal winners.