To recap from part one, a phrase often declared by novice wine drinkers is “I know what I like”, with the follow on (usually unspoken) being “I know what wine is best for me and I won’t try anything else”. Now, I’m not going to tell those people they are wrong (as such!) – I just want to give those that are hesitant to try something other than their favourite type a path which they could explore.
Here’s a reminder of the four steps I covered in the New Zealand-centric part one:
Step 1 – Buy A Better Brand
Step 2 – Pay More! (Trade Up)
Step 3 – Same Again, But With A Twist!
Step 4 – Head Down The Road
Now we can explore alternative sources of Sauvignon Blanc from outside New Zealand.
Step 5 – Going Back To My Roots
Before the Marlborough revolution, Sauvignon Blanc was most closely associated with the Loire Valley in France – Touraine, Pouilly Fumé and especially Sancerre. Indeed for some, the latter is still the best place to get SB, particularly for short to medium term ageing and a mineral subtlety that Marlborough often lacks. Like many European appellations, the quality does vary significantly as some producers prioritise quantity over quality and trade off the good name of others. Probably the best producer is Henri Bourgeois – see here for a great blog post from Confessions Of A Wine Geek.
Of course, as this is France you are expected to know the grapes belong to each appellation. The upper Loire has a grouping of Sauvignon Blanc based whites – the aforementioned Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé (not be confused with the Maconnais’s Pouilly Fuissé) Menetou-Salon, Quincy and Reuilly (not to be confused with the Chardonnay based Rully of the Côte Chalonnaise). The best have a distinct purity and racy acidity with subtle smoky gunflint aromas and flavours that can pair amazingly well with food.
Touraine is further towards the west and is a different proposition; it’s generally not as intense as those mentioned above but it is very reliable and very reasonably priced. As most who holiday in France know, a few bottles of Touraine are always a good bet from the supermarché.
Step 6 – The Inbetweeners
South Africa is usually classified as a “New World” country when it comes to wine, even though Constantia’s dessert wines were imported into Europe as far back as the 18th Century. In terms of style it lies somewhere between the stereotypical bright fruit of Australia and California and the reserved, subtle minerality of France and Italy. Of course that’s a sweeping generalisation, but hey, wine has plenty of those!
So which should you try? La Motte from Franschoek usually offer great value (though their organic version doesn’t taste appreciably better for a lot more money) Klein Constantia make claim to a foundation year of in 1685 (see, I wasn’t making it up) and also have a great QPR. Jordan of Stellenbosch (known as Jardin in the US to avoid confusion with Jordan of California) make a regular and barrel-fermented SB. Also look out for Paul Cluver from Elgin, Springfield Estate and Graham Beck.
Step 7 – Better Than It Ever Was
As I mentioned in my favourite sweet wines of 2013, a lot of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc was actually no such thing. Instead, it was more likely to be a mutation called Sauvignon Vert or Sauvignonasse – the pronunciation of the latter gives you an idea of its quality – a bunch of arse!
Vary rarely do I ever find a wine so unpalatable that I can’t finish it, and being a Yorkshireman I hate to see wine go to waste, but the last bottle I couldn’t finish was a cheapo Chilean SB I picked up at the corner shop. I tried chilling it within an inch of its life, then added some crème de cassis to make a bastardised kir, but even that wasn’t enough – down the sink it went!
But such examples are becoming more and more rare nowadays; if you chose a good brand you will rarely be disappointed. Not only are the vine types improving, but also the Chilean wine industry is continuing to explore new sites around the country. With its envious geography, the required coolness can come from altitude (into the Andes), latitude (south towards Antarctica) or cool sea breezes near the coast. The best is definitely yet to come!
A long-time staple for me was Errazuriz; fruity refreshing and reliable – if you find one of their single vineyard bottlings then it’s definitely worth a punt. Viña Leyda’s single vineyard Garuma Sauvignon Blanc Valdivieso’s Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc and Viña Litoral’s Sauvignon Blanc all show the rising star for SB: the Leyda Valley.
Step 8 – Over The Ditch
I’m a big fan of (good) Aussie wine, but there’s an awful lot of very average industrial plonk made in the large irrigated inland areas of NSW, SA and Victoria. The Australian wine industry is quite jealous at the success of Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc. Much of their land under vine has a climate too warm to make good varietal SB – in particular it doesn’t cool down enough at night in summer. SB is grown in bulk but is often blended with other grapes, especially Semillon (as the classic white Bordeaux blend), Chardonnay or Colombard.
So where is reasonable Aussie Savvy made? A couple I would recommend trying are both from (relatively) cool parts of South Australia: Shaw + Smith of Adelaide Hills (who make the M3 Chardonnay that I rave about) and Katnook Estate of Coonawarra (who make fantastic varietal Cabernet, amongst others).
And if you are feeling slightly adventurous, try a Sauvignon/Semillon blend from Margaret River – there are several excellent producers such as Vasse Felix, Cullen, Cape Mentelle and Xanadu.
Step 9 A Tale Of Two Rivers
Bordeaux is world famous for its red wines, and to a large extent the Bordelais template for fine red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon blends aged in barriques) has been copied around the globe. According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, white wine production has fallen significantly down to around 10% of the total – but as Bordeaux is such a large region this still means there’s a lot of white made here.
Although Sauvignon Blanc is most likely to have originated in the Loire Valley, it has been around in Bordeaux for several centuries. Nowadays it is one of the main white grapes of the area, either as a single varietal or blended with Sémillon (and sometimes a dash of Muscadelle, Ugni Blanc or even Sauvignon Gris). The sweet wines of Sauternes, Barsac, Loupiac and other appellations are based on the traditional blend but I will not cover them further here.
The two main rivers of Bordeaux are the Dordogne and the Garonne, and whites made in the large expanse between them can use the appellation Entre Deux Mers (calling a river a sea is somewhat hyperbolic!) This is the origin of a large proportion of dry Bordeaux white, ranging in quality from very average to very good, though rarely excellent. Chateau Bonnet is a mid range oaked blend which I covered here.
The best of all Bordeaux whites tend to come from the Pessac Léognan subregion, part of the Graves area to the south west of the city. Many Chateaux make both red and white wines, and for some the whites command higher prices than the reds. Château de France and Château de Fieuzal are personal favourites, expressing their oak maturation distinctly on the nose and palate.
One of the lesser Châteaux I discovered on my travels many years ago is located in the Côtes de Bourg. In both reds and whites, Château de Rousselet is a great example of small producers who are modernising, and offer both oaked and unoaked versions of their wines – fantastic value. The Château itself is really just a grand farmhouse, and the owners are more likely to be seen driving a tractor than a flash car.
Also check out the Sauvignon Blanc masterclass at the beginning of my post on the New Zealand trade tasting in January.
Part 3 will consider some non-Sauvignon Blanc based wines which might appeal as alternatives to the might of Marlborough.
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