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Sauvignon Blanc: Fresh and fragrant

Author: Canadian Living

Menus & Entertaining

Sauvignon Blanc: Fresh and fragrant

This story was originally titled "The Wine Taster: Sauvignon Blanc" in the June 2009 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!

The first thing you'll notice about Sauvignon Blanc is its instantly recognizable smell. It's often described as grassy or herbaceous, with notes of green fruit, such as gooseberry, or even cat pee. (Mmm.)

Sauvignon Blanc (SO-vee-nyohn blawn)
Sauvignon Blanc is like a vivacious person at a party – flirty, fun and easy to be with. The grapes are strongly influenced by where they grow, each area producing a signature style of wine. Wines from the Loire Valley in France, such as Sancerre and Pouilly- Fumé, tend to be aromatic, crisp and flinty, whereas their peers from New Zealand and Chile are fruity and almost tropical.

When aged in oak – the norm in California and Bordeaux, France – they become richer and drier. These whites are zingy, and their fresh fruit is usually best when drunk young. There's no need to cellar them – enjoy the instant gratification they offer

10 things you should know about Sauvignon Blanc
1. Sauvignon Blanc may be the world's most successful white grape. It grows everywhere: the Loire Valley, Bordeaux and Burgundy in France; New Zealand; California; South Africa; Chile; Canada; Italy; and Spain.

2. The Loire Valley is Sauvignon Blanc's homeland. Look for wines from its villages, such as Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Quincy and Menetou-Salon, which have pure, bracing, mineral flavours.

3. In 1997, DNA "fingerprinting" identified Sauvignon Blanc, with Cabernet Franc, as one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon. Parent and child share certain herbaceous aromas.

4. New Zealand's Marlborough region has a huge international following for its distinctive Sauvignon Blanc. Remarkably, grape cultivation didn't begin there until 1973, but the region's Sauvignon Blanc wines are considered the ideal illustration of the grape's characteristics.

5. Chile produces some stunning examples of Sauvignon Blanc in the cooler regions of Leyda and Limarí. Canada is just starting to receive these wines.

6. This grape is tricky for the winemaker because it needs to be perfectly ripe. When under-ripe, it is tart and vegetal, and lacks aroma; overripe, it loses its intensity and freshness.

7. Most Sauvignon Blancs are aged in stainless steel to preserve their crispness, but some are fermented and aged in oak barrels to add complexity and weight. This method is used for some high-end Pouilly-Fumés and whites from California and Bordeaux (where Sémillon is often blended in). These wines usually require a couple of years in the bottle to reach their peak.
8. In the late 1960s, winemaker Robert Mondavi successfully revamped his hard-to-sell California Sauvignon Blanc. He aged it in oak, put it in a dark green Bordeaux-shaped bottle and dubbed it Fumé Blanc, hinting at the glamour of French Pouilly-Fumé. Today Fumé Blanc is basically a Sauvignon Blanc with some oak aging. It may be blended with a bit of Sémillon, making it more of a Bordeaux-style than a Loirestyle white.

9. Sauvignon Blanc is in some of the best Bordeaux dessert wines. Usually Sémillon blends, these wines have a soupçon of Sauvignon Blanc for zest.

10. Both Ontario and B.C. make great Sauvignon Blancs. Canada's cooler climate means most of these wines go un-oaked, allowing them to better express their pure, fresh aromas and flavours.

Try something new
Don't latch on to your old favourite like a life raft. When dining out, pick the brain of a knowledgeable waiter or the restaurant's sommelier. Tell her:
• what sorts of wines you like;
• your budget (point to a price if you're shy); and
• how open you are to expanding your horizons.

Armed with this info, she can help you explore the wonders of the wine world.
My advice: Try an Albariño or a Primitivo if you get the chance.

Sauvignon Blanc profile
Colour: Un-oaked varieties are pale straw with a greenish hue; oaked varieties are more golden
Alcohol: Medium
Acidity: High
Aroma profile: Very aromatic; depends on region

Cooler-climate Sauvignon Blanc
From: Loire Valley and Bordeaux, France; Canada; Italy
Flavours: Grass, herbs, gooseberry

Warmer-climate Sauvignon Blanc
From: New Zealand, Australia, California, Chile, South Africa
Flavours: Grass, herbs, gooseberry, citrus, passionfruit, guava

Un-oaked: Dry and aromatic; best drunk young
Oaked: Rich, dry and complex; some premium wines can be cellared

How to serve:
Stemware: White wine glasses that are fairly narrow to concentrate the wonderful aromas
Temperature: 50°F to 59°F (10°C to 15°C)
Best enjoyed: As an aperitif or with lighter fare
Food pairings: Seafood (oysters, shrimp), delicate fish, salad, goat cheese, even fish and chips

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Menus & Entertaining

Sauvignon Blanc: Fresh and fragrant