Tracking Sauvignon Blanc, Graves, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé Around the World

You love Sauvignon Blanc, right? One of the hottest wine types in the market today. How adventuresome have you gotten with your Sauvigon Blanc? What do you have in your wine rack right now? A White Bordeaux? A White Graves? Probably not. Many of us are familiar with Sauvignon Blanc but few familiar with Sauvignon Blanc from Graves and there are two reasons why: 1) Graves are costly and 2) Graves are almost always a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillion or Sémillion and Sauvignon Blanc and sometimes a tad of Muscadelle. America ‘back in the day’ first saw Graves Blancs as the ‘Sauvignon Blanc, but the Loire Valley has been and still is the world-renowned producer of great SB.

Sauvignon Blanc Grapes

Sauvignon Blanc Grapes

BORDEAUX, GRAVES, PESSAC-LÉOGNAN:

Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan

Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan (look to lower left in the “salmon” colored area)

There are only three approved white wine grapes in the Bordeaux region: Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon Blanc and Muscadelle, but the Sauvignon Gris has recently been an adopted step-child as it is believed to be a mutation of Sauvignon Blanc.

The grapes name do not appear on the front of a Graves label – somewhere on the back label, perhaps. The word ‘Graves’ and if appropriate Pessac-Leognan, are always on the label of a Graves Blanc. From elsewhere around the world you will find Sauvignon Blanc prominent if the blend is predominently Sauvignon Blanc. The second dominate blend if there is one, is found on the back label.

Perhaps there are Graves Pessac-Leognan 100% Sauvignon Blancs, but I didn’t find any in my reasonably comprehensive search. The soil in Graves is quite different, the word meaning gravel or gravelly, bringing a characteristic ‘wet stones’ nose and taste that winemakers seek to morph to luscious – and many do.

Recent White Graves vintages have produced several great to excellent years with 2010 and 2007 considered stunners, and from 2004 forward all outstanding.

LOIRE VALLY: SANCERRE AND POUILLY-FUMÉ:

Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé (look to top right corner)

Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé (look just below top right corner)

In the Loire Valley of France, where many believe the finest Sauvignon Blanc in the world is produced, Sauvignon Blanc from the Appellation d’origine controlées (AOC) of Sancerre (a village) and Pouilly-Fumé (a village) – two AOCs lying mostly across the Loire River from each other, are both known for 100% Sauvignon Blanc and are best compared to Sauvignon Blancs from places other than Graves.

Sancerre enjoys the greater reputation and is a larger area than it’s sister across the river. The Sancerre soil is largely an ancient oyster bed. They are known for their racy minerality, a steeliness with a citrus backbone and high in acidity. The vintage makes the difference in fruit nuances. When shopping look for the villages of Sancerre, Chavignol and Buè on the label.

Pouilly-Fumés are generally fuller-bodied than Sancerres (unless a particular vintage intervenes) and known for their structure and balance, considered richer and more aromatic with the prevalent and powerfully smokey, musky aroma and taste lending ‘Fume’ to the name, with floral nuances and ripe tree fruits. The vines grow almost entirely in flint and limestone – a rarity. Shopping for Pouilly-Fumé means looking for producers rather than village names: a couple – Ladoucette, Didier Dagueneau and Château Tracy. Find an interesting visit to Pouilly-Fumé here.

The Sauvignon Blancs of the Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé appreciate bottle aging.

The following shows the differences in blends of some very prominent “Sauvignon Blancs” from around the world – obviously, there are also differences in oak vs stainless steel, climate, soil and the winemaker’s vision:

Château de Tracy Pouilly-Fumé - 100% Sauvignon Blanc

Château de Tracy Pouilly-Fumé – 100% Sauvignon Blanc

2009 Château Bouscaut, Pessac-Léognan – 55% Sauvignon Blanc, 45% Sémillon

2009 Château Carbonnieux, Pessac-Léognan -  55% Sauvignon Blanc, 45% Sémillon

2009 Château Ferran, Pessac-Léognan – 60% Sémillon 40% Sauvignon Blanc

2009 Château Haut-Brion Blanc, Pessac-Léognan – 62% Sauvignon Blanc, 38% Sémillon

2009 Château La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc, Pessac-Léognan – 84% Sémillon, 16% Sauvignon Blanc

2009 Château Latour Martillac 65% Sauvignon Blanc, 35% Sémillon

2009 Château Pape Clément Blanc, Pessac-Léognan – 40% Sauvignon Blanc, 35% Semillon, 16% Sauvignon Gris, a mutation of Sauvignon Blanc

2009 Grgich Hills Fume Blanc – 100% Sauvignon Blanc – California Napa Valley

2009 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc – 100% Sauvignon Blanc – California Russian River Valley

2010 Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc – 100% Sauvignon Blanc – Marlborough, New Zealand

2009 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc – 100% Sauvignon Blanc – Marlborough, New Zealand

2009 Chateau Ste Michelle Sauvignon Blanc – 80% Sauvignon Blanc, 11% Sémillon Blanc – Washington State

As stated above, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé are 100% Sauvignon Blanc.

Sauvignon Blancs are traditionally bottled in the Bordeaux-style bottle above (high-shoulders).

*****

Chile’s cool Casablanca Valley Sauvignons are making a name for themselves:

Over the last few weeks I tasted a wide range of Chilean whites — on their own and then with food — and, overall, found a quality level I’d rank at or above the same varietals from New Zealand and California.

While some of the South American nation’s sauvignon blancs mimicked the overly grassy, vegetal smell and taste common in those other New World rivals, others showed a remarkable breeding for so young an industry.

All were cleanly made, with few trying to impress by high alcohol or overripened fruit flavors.

Many, as is common in Chile, have screwcaps. While winemakers may debate the merits of cork over screwcaps for red wine, the metal seal is clearly better and easier to open when it comes to white wines to be drunk within a year or two of release.

Here are some of the Chilean wines I enjoyed most.

Cono Sur Vision Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($12-$14)

Casas del Bosque Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($15)

From this family owned estate in the Casablanca Valley comes a green-yellow wine with lots of body, the fragrance of litchi, and the pronounced tang of lemony fruit and good acid. It was perfect with a lunch of just-picked tomatoes, mozzarella, bread, and olive oil.

Palo Alto Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2009 ($13)

Very pale green-gold color, with both nose and flavors more herbaceous and mineral than grassy, very close in style to a Loire Valley Sancerre and therefore ideal with simple seafood, especially shrimp and lobster.

Aquitania Sol de Sol Chardonnay 2008 ($10)

This is a sunny wine from the Malleco Valley, and a little age has bolstered its lovely bouquet and chardonnay flavor that I associate with some of the lighter examples from Burgundy’s Cote d’Or. That’s hardly surprising since three of the four owners are French winemakers — Paul Potallier, Bruno Prats and Ghislain de Montgolfier. The fourth is Chilean enologist Felipe de Solminihac. I enjoyed this wine with Chinese noodles, fully complementing the soy sauce, ginger, and pepper. Read more at Bloomberg.

ITALY: makes Sauvignon Blanc too, often referred to as just ‘Sauvignon.’ Look for those from the northeast, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Alto Adige.

FOOD PAIRING:

Ask wine enthusiasts whether they think Sauvignon Blanc is a good food wine and you’ll get two consistent answers: yes and no, with an occasional maybe. The bottom line, it depends on the wine and food to be served. Sauvignon Blanc is a standout with cheeses and especially Chèvre (goat cheese), Brie, Cheddar, Asiago and Parmesan. Pair it with pestos, and cream sauces, or pasta tossed with olive, lemon or lime. I would choose Sauvignon Blanc for hard-to-pair veggies like asparagus and brussell sprouts, and green, red, yellow and orange peppers, mushrooms and Caesar salads. SB works with many Japanese foods and always perfect on the patio when you find one you love.

PRONUNCIATION TIPS – say it as you see it:

Bordeaux: (bor-doe): (bor rhymes with for) (doe rhymes with foe)

Château La Mission Haut Brion (sha-tow lah me-shawn O bree-on) (sha rhymes with shaw)  (toe rhymes with tow) (lah sounds like law) (me as in me (myself and I). (Haut is pronounced like the letter O or oh) (bree rhymes with free) (on has the sound of ahn – or to put the book ‘on’ the table)

Graves (grawv) (rhymes with mauve – no s or plural sound)

Loire (low-ah – said quickly together) (low has the sound of tow) (ah has the sound of law without the ‘w.’)

Pessac-Léognan (pay-sack lee own yo) (pay rhymes with lay) (sack rhymes with back) (lee rhymes with tee, own has the sound of mown) (yo rhymes go)

Pouilly-Fumé (poo-yee few-may) (poo rhymes with moo) (yee rhymes with gee) (few rhymes with mew) (may rhymes with lay) In the U.S. Foo-may for Fumé is also appropriate.

Sancerre (saw-sehr) (saw rhymes with law) (sehr rhymes with fare).

Sauvignon Blanc (Sew-ven-yawn Blawnk) (sew rhymes with tow) (ven rhymes with ben) (yawn rhymes with lawn) blawnk has the ‘law’ sound in it – blawnk, rhyming with clonk. In France, Blanc does not sound the ‘c,’ so it is heard as Blaa with a slight nasal ‘n’ sound. In the U.S. ‘blawnk’ is appropriate.

Sauternes (sew-turn) (sew rhymes with tow) (turn rhymes with burn). In France, it is sew-tare-nah (tare rhymes with fare) (nah sounds like naw), but sew-turn is appropriate in the U.S.

Talk to some American restaurateurs, and they’ll tell you they sell more American Sauvignon Blanc than Chardonnay. Others will tell you Sauvignon Blanc is American’s most popular white wine, but the truth is, Chardonnay still outsells Sauvignon Blanc by large numbers.

The video below is a tasting by Two Thumbs up of Beringer’s 2010 California Appellation Sauvignon Blanc. The California Appellation tells a buyer that while the winery is located in California’s Napa Valley, the grapes are grown elsewhere in the state (where grapes are less expensive to grow, and you pay less).

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Background and Related:

Line 39 Sauvignon Blanc and Pan-Seared Pork Chops

Interview with Nobilo Senior Winemaker, Dave Edmonds (New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc)

Two Thumbs Up on Beringer 2010 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc (video)

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3 comments for “Tracking Sauvignon Blanc, Graves, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé Around the World

  1. Jimmy Raven
    March 15, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    Great article. Lots of good information. The French appear to blend a lot more semillon into their SB.

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