Sauvignon Blanc and its aromas

If you smell aromas of gooseberry, cut grass, boxwood leaves, currant leaves, grape leaves, nettle, musk, surely you have a wine produced with Sauvignon Blanc in your glass.

If you smell intense aromas of cat urine, green beans or canned peas, you are still in the presence of a Sauvignon, but it is probably not one of the best. In fact, wines with marked green, herbaceous and pungent notes are often obtained from grapes that are harvested too early, ripened “in the shade”, come from an overly productive crop or one grown at high altitudes; on the contrary, wines with a more fruity and mature flavor are produced from grapes that have come from the most suitable clones, undergo the process of vine thinning and are grown with the most desirable amount of sun exposure.

Sauvignon is one of the most characteristic varieties of white grapes which, in addition to its fresh aromas, is characterized by an invigorating gustatory acidity; and when it fails, particularly in climates that are too hot, the wine loses its charm.

Sauvignon Blanc is a highly prized varietal that is grown all over the world and has shown significant production growth in recent years. It has small grape clusters with large berries, ripens relatively late and produces a wine that remains authentic and full of personality especially in its youth.

Some of the more intense aromatic notes of Sauvignon’s Blanc’s bouquet hold up for about a decade but this does not necessarily determine an improvement in the wine. This varietal is mainly used alone, in single varietal wine, however, there are some appellations in which it enters as the main component, or as an improvement complement, of the grape blend.

Originally from the transalpine area of the Gironde, the grape variety is called Sauvignon, but it is good to remember the existence of other Sauvignons, those specified as Jaune, Noir, Rosé and Violet, depending on the color of the berries.

The fragrant and original marker of Sauvignon is the aroma of freshly cut grass and other grassy notes.

The winemakers par excellence of this varietal’s wine are those of the districts of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé in the Loire, whose vines enjoy a continental climate with short and hot summers that give rise to wines with a specific aroma of flint or silica. It must be acknowledged that there are differences determined by the geological complexity of the soils dominated by calcareous clay sometimes mixed with gypsum, silica, tuff, gravel or Kimmeridge, and by the different microclimates belonging to the Haute Loire wine-growing district, which give the characteristic “regional” aromas of black currant or currant leaves, elderberry and grapefruit, and in the evolving cuvées, smoky and carob notes.

We summarize these differences as such:

         The notes of gooseberry and elderberry of Sancerre

         The flint and gunpowder notes of Pouilly-Fumé

         The hawthorn notes of Menetou-Salon

         The fern notes of Reuilly

         The lime notes of Quincy

In the vineyard, Sauvignon is not pretentious. It clearly preserves its own aromatic identity because it rarely tolerates the aromas of oak and does not tend to mix well with other grape varieties. The main exception is the white Bordeaux: in fact the best wines of Graves and Pessac-Léognan are left to ferment and age in young oak barrels, and are often blended with Semillon; creating intense and spicy wines with aromas of yellow plum, nectarine, lemon peel, grapefruit, white pepper. 

In Italy the Sauvignons from Alto-Adige are truly remarkable and of excellent quality, presenting vegetal notes reminiscent of tomato leaf, aromatic herbs such as sage and floral notes of elderberry. Friuli is another notable Sauvignon-producing region and includes the two sub-areas: Collio, whose wines express all the potential of exotic and vegetable fruitiness with hints of pepper, and Isonzo, whose wines are characterized by an ideal microclimate for the varietal that enhances the wine’s richness and fragrant precision.

In Austria, the varietal is grown in the regions of Burgenland and southern Styria, where a specialty, Muskat-Silvaner, an equivocal synonym of Sauvignon blanc expressing notes of exotic fruit, peach and apricot, is produced.

Beyond the Pyrenees we find the varietal successfully cultivated in the Spanish vineyards of Castile-León, in particular in the Rueda, whose continental and semi-oceanic climate maximizes the qualities of Sauvignon with citrus notes.

For a long time the need for a cold climate prevented the production of this grape in the New World, but in the late 1980s the New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc rose to international prominence. This is a wine that is much more fruity than the European prototype, rich and spicy, with extreme purity and pleasant intensity; it acquires an exuberance that is synthesized in the tropical fruit aromas. It seems strange that the first vineyards planted in this region only date back to the 1970s, yet this has not hindered the continued rise of the most important and earliest wine area in New Zealand. Sauvignon Blanc is its greatest resource. It is the superstar grape creating the cult wine for enthusiasts and more. Being a quite “European” terroir to put it in ethnographic terms, it has a dry climate, gravel soils that allow perfect drainage in addition to a perfect amount of sun and rain during the active stages of farming, considerable temperature range that favors the accumulation of aromatic precursors and the rest is in the glass: articulated aromas with intense notes of gooseberry, boxwood, elderberry and pink grapefruit, lime, basil, cut grass, asparagus, cucumber, fennel, kiwi, mango, passion fruit, pineapple, papaya, lychee, melon, yellow peach, fig, white pepper, sugared almond. Notable Sauvignon Blanc is also produced in Nelson on the west side, with a rainy climate and gently undulating terroir, and on the north island in Gisborne and Hawkes Bay.

In Australia, Sauvignon has a very mature bouquet, perhaps too much so. The cultivation areas in order of increasing importance are Southern Australia with Mclaren Vale and Adelaide Hills, and Western Australia with Margaret River, the latter among the best Australian districts with a distinctly maritime climate that is positively affected by ocean breezes, and which produces wines of greater finesse with more vibrant fruit aromas, specifically that of peach.

South Africa has a favorable Sauvignon Blanc cultivation district in the Overberg region, an area south-east of Cape Town, and the Elgin and Walker Bay areas; the typical aromatic profile contains distinct shades green apple!

In Chile, Cassablanca with its soft hills and vineyards along the valley, produces among the best labels dedicated to the variety thanks to the climatic typology of the area which translates into notes of elderflower and aniseed! The Sauvignon Blanc here is not to be confused with the Sauvignonasse grape, much more present in the past and “mixed” with the authentic Sauvignon. 

The Sauvignon Blanc produced in California and aged in oak barrels for varying amounts of time, was uniquely named Fumé Blanc. This was a commercial and wine making tactic introduced by the pioneers of California viticulture. It created some confusion about the precise varietal as many consumers thought that Fumé Blanc was a variety of its own.  

In California, this wine is more cultivated in the coastal valleys in order to produce a wine with fruitiness and balance according to the climatic needs of the varietal. The Oakville district in Napa County, Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County and Los Carneros district, are the most representative areas, producing wines with an  aromatic profile presenting notes of ripe yellow fruit such as melon, pear and pineapple, Indian tea, light honey, pepper and rose.

Sauvignon Blanc is undoubtedly one of the most elegant grape varieties in the world, with an olfactory power that in its best expressions escapes any uncertainty and recalls the moment when you have to say “This is a Sauvignon”!

- Luisito Perazzo


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