Does every grape variety deserve its own special day?  Last week it was Sauvignon Blanc Day, but if you missed it, as I did, then you can catch up with your commemorative drinking next week when it is Moscato Day closely followed by Chardonnay Day on May 23.  I am quite worried that there are not enough days in the year to cope with all the grape varieties we should be celebrating, and when will someone get around to designating a special day for those rare and unusual grapes such as Carrasquín, Gouget Noir and Prunesta?

But since the marketing men have decided to get us talking about Sauvignon, it is worth looking at the supermarket shelves to find out just how much this grape has invaded our lives.

At the last count Waitrose had 57 Sauvignon Blancs on its shelves, outweighed in the white wine section only by 93 Chardonnay-based wines.  Other grapes such as Viognier (5) Albariño (6) and Chenin Blanc (14) are just not as popular with wine drinkers.  Sauvignon Blanc is the go-to variety for aperitif and sunshine drinking, and it works fabulously well with fish, asparagus and salads.  Yet it is not so many years ago when the variety was hardly known.  Before New Zealand wines burst on the scene in the late 1970’s, Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé were the key wines made from Sauvignon Blanc, but then, as now, they generally do not declare their grape on the label.  It was left to the Kiwis to introduce us to the fresh-tasting, zingy gooseberry and citrus-charged flavours that are the signature of Sauvignon Blanc and in doing so, they changed the world of wine.

Marlborough is the home of most of New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc. Based on the old stony bed of the Wairau River this cool-climate region is now wall-to-wall vines.  New vineyards have spilled out from Marlborough, over the hills and into the Awatere Valley where an even cooler climate gives slightly different characteristics.

This is the region of big producers which can machine-harvest tons of grapes in a morning and get them into their bright, shiny, stainless-steel wineries within a few hours, keeping flavours fresh and vibrant.  They also have the marketing strength to get the wines into our stores at very competitive prices.  There are some really quite decent Sauvignons on the shelves at just £5.99 (Freeman’s Bay, Aldi) although top quality Sauvignons, made with more attention to detail can command up to £16.95 for Greywacke 2018, or to £25.95 for more complexity in Wild Ferment Sauvignon Blanc (both at Field and Fawcett, York).

Back in France, they are still growing Sauvignon Blanc, and actually have significantly more vines than New Zealand.  The Loire is home to a substantial proportion of them with vineyards stretching from Sancerre and Pouilly-sur-Loire in the centre of France through Reuilly, Quincy to Touraine which acts like the powerhouse of the Loire.  Growers tend to have smaller parcels of land and while there are some big companies, the co-operatives also have a significant role to play in getting wines into the market.

As a way of comparing the styles of French Sauvignons against New Zealand, I attended a blind tasting of 12 wines, presented in pairs, each pair made up of a French Sauvignon and a New Zealand counterpart.  To give the tasting some focus, each pair represented a particular style or price point.  The aim was not to select a winner, but rather to identify trends and flavour traits between the 2 regions.

Great value

Villa Maria Private Bin 2018 (£7.69 Waitrose on offer until 14 May) was lined up against a Touraine Sauvignon 2018 from Domaine de la Renaudie (£12.50 from Wine Cellar Club).

This pairing started the theme for me, which led me to spot each of the New Zealand wines in the tasting. The Villa Maria wine was bright, vibrant and full of peapod, gooseberry and citrus notes while the French wine was softer, with light herbaceous tones that harmonised.  It is difficult to find Domaine de la Renaudie in our region. Instead try Booths Touraine Sauvignon 2017 at £8.00.

Award Winning

This pitted a barrique-fermented Marlborough wine from Cause and Effect (Naked Wines,  £17.99) against a barrel-fermented Touraine wine (Domaine Benjamin Delobel, not imported into the UK).  Again the French wine was a softer, rounder style while the New Zealand wine had clearly enjoyed rather too much oak and needed time to settle down.

Pioneer

In this pairing, Les Fossils 2018 Reuilly (Virgin wines, £14.99) was matched alongside an aged Brancott Chosen Rows 2010 (£40, difficult to find).  Each wine held its place in the pairing, but the elegance and complexity of Les Fossils was a joy, while the Brancott was amazing in its vitality and concentration.  This shows that New Zealand wines have the capacity to age.

The tasting continued with the focus moving to Terroir when two wines from the same producer working in the two hemispheres were well matched, then Innovation and Off the Beaten track which looked at Te Mata Sauvignon Blanc wines from Hawkes Bay in New Zealand (£13.50 The Wine Society) against Domaine du Pré Baron 2017 (Corks and Cases, Masham), from a new part of the Touraine.  Here the wines were well matched, with the Kiwi wine displaying less gooseberry character and more richness and texture.  The French wine showed floral notes, elegance and a precise, firm finish.

What this taste-off showed was that New Zealand has a definite style of Sauvignon Blanc with bright, lively flavours, far more aromatics and immediate character.  The French wines were generally softer, less obvious, but silkier and complex.

I occasionally hear some wine drinkers turn down a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc because it is just too vibrant and overwhelming, so maybe it is time to investigate some Loire versions of the same grape.

Try Domaine Chatelain Pouilly Fumé 2017, for its herbaceous style with minerally crunch (currently £11.29 until 14 May at Waitrose) or try the chalky, smooth-tasting André Dézat et Fils, Domaine Thibault Pouilly Fumé 2017 from Booths, £14.75.

 

 

About The Author

Christine Austin

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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