What to drink…
This month, Richard Hemming takes a look at the Sauvignon Blanc grape variety
For centuries, the villages of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé in the Loire Valley have quietly specialised in making delicious, fragrant, dry white wines from the Sauvignon Blanc grape – but it wasn’t until New Zealand started producing it in the 1980s that this variety became world famous.
The Kiwi style had a powerful and ripe gooseberry fruit flavour that everybody loved. It was worlds apart from the more restrained, delicate styles of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, and besides, hardly anybody knew that these wines were made from the same raw ingredients anyway.
In response, many French Sauvignon Blanc producers started making wines that imitated the ‘fruit bombs’ of the southern hemisphere – and they did a remarkably good job. Nowadays, both the modern and traditional styles are available from France, and I’ve made a few specific recommendations below.
While flavour intensity can vary, all Sauvignon Blancs share some common characteristics. High acidity is one of the most distinctive, giving the wines a crisp, mouthwatering style. They are nearly all light or medium bodied, and very rarely have oak influence. Aromatically, they tend to have citrus flavours – lemon, lime, gooseberry – as well as herbal characteristics, often compared with cut grass or nettles. The most prized examples can have a ‘mineral’ quality – which is a bit like the aroma of flint or slate.
Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé are the best examples of the mineral style – but they tend to be quite expensive. More affordable versions from the Loire can be found from the appellations of Quincy, Touraine, Menetou-Salon and Reuilly – and you can also find some Sauvignon Blanc in Bordeaux.