In recent years, the reputation of the Sauvignon Blanc varietal has resisted wilting in the shadow of its more popular (and more widely produced) Burgundy white wine arch-rival, the Chardonnay. Because it is not quaffed in the vast quantities of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc has acquired a bit of a higher prestige, especially amongst those wine connoisseurs who are more fastidious about flavor and less about bringing on a buzz. And, in almost every way, the Sauvignon Blanc tends to be a bit more elegant in is essence and sophisticated in its flavor profile. If Chardonnay is Marilyn Monroe (buxom, voluptuous and fuller-figured/flavored), Sauvignon Blanc is more like Audrey Hepburn: thinner, classy, and elegant. Both are timeless, classy and iconic, but the wines differ in temperament and sensuality.
The heritage-story of the Sauvignon Blanc (who likely gets its name from the French “sauvage” or “wild,” and “blanc,” or “white) originates in the South West of France in the Loire Valley, and, more famously, from Bordeaux, which is deemed as Ground Zero for wine making, historically. During the 18th century (during the reign of the infamous Louis’), Sauvignon Blanc paired with the suave Cabernet Franc, who in turn produced the now immensely popular Cabernet Sauvignon varietal. Before the devastating phylloxera infestation of the 19th century, Sauvignon Blanc fared to distant shores, and is now cultivated in Chile, Canada, Australia, New Zealand , South Africa, and widely predominates in California and Washington vineyards. In California during the late 1960s, the Sauvignon Blanc held the alias “Fume Blanc,” a moniker attributed to winemaking ancient Robert Mondavi, who allegedly fabricated the name in order to make the grape more alluring to American consumers. Americans at the time were used to sweeter white wines; Mondavi strove to approximate the flavor of a classic Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc, imbuing it with a leaner, drier flavor characteristic the wines are famous for today – largely to increase sales. The name Fume Blanc has fallen out of favor in the last few decades and is now (usually comically) associated with inexperienced new world winemaking.
Sauvignon Blanc grapes thrive best in sunny climes, but do not fare well in furnace-like heat. The varietal typically carries green, herbaceous flavors, and are punctuated with lime, green apple and white peach. But the intensity of those flavors will vary from region to region. A Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma’s Alexander Valley will bear more restrained fruit flavors, while the Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand, are characteristically more fruit forward with an intensified grassiness. Sierra Foothills sauvignon blancs are of exceptional quality, exhibiting the smoky qualities generated from the volcanic soils its grapevines grow in.
Ideally, pair a Sauvignon Blanc with anything that habituates in, or crawls out of, the sea, namely clams, oysters, roasted or grilled fish and crab.