Sauvignon Blanc. Ahhhh, Sauvignon Blanc.  When I was first getting into wine I actually had this impression that Sauv Blanc was simple.  I was bored by its citrus flavors, high acidity and lack of length.  Well, let’s be honest here, I was very naive.  Before I launch into all things Sauv Blanc, I will take this opportunity to mention the problem of “not liking” any one varietal.  Working in the retail side of the wine business I frequently encounter customers who insist that they “don’t like Chardonnay” or “don’t like Merlot” for instance.  About 80 years ago this would’ve been very plausible because if you were drinking merlot, it was from Bordeaux and it was of a certain vinicultural style.  Today that is not the case.  Merlot (and Chardonnay even more so) is produced in so many countries and in so many styles that discounting the varietals entirely only limits one’s chance to taste amazing wines.  I understand why one may decide they don’t like any said varietal – they’ve tasted some that they didn’t care for.  But really, just because you don’t like Chard-oak-nay, don’t discount Chablis.  Please.

Ok.  Moving on…

I looked back over notebooks and notebooks of tasting notes from the previous couple of years.  Here are some descriptors of Sauvignon Blancs that I have encountered: Grapefruit. Stone. Orange peel. Tree fruit. Jalepeño. Cat pee. Aloe plant. Developing funk. Musty. Yellow apple. Green apple. So pungent. Smoke.  Piercing. Limestone. Green fruit. Green apple. Citrus. Grass. Freshly cut green pepper. Warm lemon. Zesty. Gooseberries. Pink grapefruit.

Sauv Blanc likely originated in Bordeaux.  DNA research in 1997 found that sometime during the 18th century it got together with Cabernet Franc and created… dah dada daHH! – Cabernet Sauvignon.  Don’t you like Sauvignon Blanc better already?? That’s why Sauv Blanc shares some aromatic similarities with the big and boldly structured Cab Sauv, namely the commonly found herbaceous quality that can be likened to green bell pepper.  Mmm delicious.  I am sipping a 2009 Domaine Cherrier Sancerre as I write this and it chock full of the green pepper flavor compound; a methoxypyrazine.  Some describe this compound as a negative.  It’s not.  If it’s rancid and over-powering then yes, yuck, it’s likely the result of underripe fruit and winemaking issues.  If it is present but well-integrated like this Domaine Cherrier is – I can smell white flowers, lemon, grapefruit, white stone all intermingled with the green pepper, then it’s quite heavenly.

Sauv Blanc is grown and produced in Bordeaux (blended with Semillion here), the Loire Valley, Northeastern Italy, Slovenia, Romania, New Zealand, California, Washington and beyond.  I want to delve into “old world” Sauv Blanc so at our tasting we are exploring the below:

Sancerre: Sancerre is a town located on the far eastern portion of the Loire River Valley in France.  It is nestled on the left bank where the river runs a north to south course; across the river is the town of Pouilly-sur-Loire.  Sancerre is more than just a town however, it is also a delineated wine region.  In fact, fourteen different villages in the vicinity are allowed to use the name “Sancerre” on their labels including Chavignol where lots of delicious goat cheese comes from.  Important factoid.  Pinot Noir is also produced in the region but moreso white and more specifically, our beloved Sauvignon Blanc.  The region has some varied soil types but is predominately limestone and clay.  Many vineyards (there are always exceptions) have a higher content of clay than its sister region of Pouilly-Fume, resulting more sturdy wines.  The area is comprised of a lot of south-facing slopes so sunlight is plentiful but the climate is pretty much continental giving a significant diurnal shift of temperature which is a very good thing.  The vini techniques are more oft than not, free of oak.  Sancerre grants us beautiful Sauvignon Blanc in all its natural glory – clean, crisp, bone dry, bright but strong with profiles of melon, gentle citrus, even acidity with great longevity on the palate.  These wines are most often best drunk within two years of harvest but again, there are exceptions.  Some producers are using Sauvignon Blanc clones from before the 1950s rather than modern clones.  The former are producing longer living wines with great ageing potential.

Pouilly-Fumé: Okay let’s set this somewhat confusing record straight: there’s a town on the right bank of the river, just across from the Sancerre region called Pouilly-sur-Loire.  Vineyards around here grow and produce wines from the Sauvignon Blanc variety but here, they like to call is Fume Blanc, so the wines are Pouilly-Fumé.  Got it?  Good.  There are always exceptions in wine (how about I mention this factoid in every paragraph, hm?) but what’s kind ofclassic about Pouilly-Fumé is the distinct aroma of gun flint in the wines.  “Huh??” Yeah, the soil is limestone and clay but also has a high proportion of clay-flint that is called silex.  This flint gives the wine a sometimes very prevalent smoky aroma likened to gun flint.  Even the locals have a hard time telling Sancerre from Pouilly-Fumé because they can be so strikingly similar, but some possible differences would be that Pouilly-Fumé will be more perfumed and can live longer.

Friuli: Also known as Friuli-Venezia Giulia, this is the most northeasterly region of Italy bordering Austria and Slovenia.  Sounds like a supremely fabulous place to visit, eat and drink because it has intense influence of Italian, German and Slavic cultures all in one area.  The production of white wine here is king. There are all sorts of varietals thriving here from Müller-Thurgau to Merlot to Riesling to of course, Sauvignon Blanc.  The areas producing Sauv Blanc mostly have calcareous marl soils with sand and rocks.  The region of Collio is within Friuli, so read on to get more specifics.

Collio: Also known as Collio Goriziano.  This is one of my favorite regions for Italian white wine.  The world “collio” means hill, so guess what the region is like.  It’s hilly.  Collio focuses greatly on pristine, technologically advanced white wine making, all while maintaining what is natural to the terroir.  I find wines from here to be a little more subtle than those from the Loire Valley… I don’t have much to say about them quite yet.  Collio is very proximal to Slovenia and I enjoyed a bottle of Slovenian Sauv Blanc recently; it was very good, I likened it more to the extreme pungency of New Zealand Sauv Blanc over Sancerre. Eager to find out more.

Alto Adige: This very German-influenced region is west of Friuli in a very mountainous region and is named for the Adige river that flows through.  Lots of apples grow here too.  There’s a lot of Lagrein (a red varietal) grown here, along with Silvaner, Gewürztraminer and more.  Sauvignon Blanc production is not huge here but is said to be of great quality.

Mmkay let’s get a-tastin’.