Sauvignon Blanc is one of the world’s most popular grape varieties, thanks to its distinctive aromatics, dry profile, high strung acidity, and lemony herbal flavor.
The most popular Sauvignon Blanc of them all comes from Marlborough in New Zealand. Sold in more than 100 countries, it accounts for 85% of New Zealand’s wine exports.
But there’s a problem. New Zealand’s “Savvy,” as they call it locally, is so popular that winemakers are struggling to meet demands, especially as there was a painfully low harvest in 2021. A shortage is looming, and drinkers may find it more challenging to spot their favorite crisp and zesty Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs on shelves this summer.
But have no fear. There are plenty of regions where great Sauvignon Blanc thrives, from Italy to California. Not to mention France, its ancestral home.
“It’s a historic grape in the Loire Valley. Sauvignon Blanc, in many ways, is the most important grape for us,” says Lionel Gosseaume, winemaker at Domaine de Pierre and president of InterLoire, the regional body for Loire Valley wines.
Living for Loire Valley
Like so many of the international varieties, Sauvignon Blanc came from France originally. It was reportedly named after the French word “sauvage,” or wild, because the grapes grew rampantly. First mentioned in the Loire Valley, the grape spread to Bordeaux. In the Loire the grape is made as a single varietal wine, whereas in Bordeaux it’s commonly blended with other varieties like Sémillon.
“In the Loire Valley, the spring and the summer are not so hot. That’s very important for making very fresh and aromatic Sauvignon Blanc. The nights are quite cold, too. So it takes a long time for grapes to reach maturity, which is very good for the complexity and the freshness of the wine,” says Gosseaume.
One of the main characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley is its piercing aromas, freshness, and elegance. Styles from prominent Loire Valley subregions Sancerre and Pouilly Fume tend to have a greater fruit concentration and smoky minerality, while bottles from central Loire and Touraine — where Gosseaume makes his wines — produce refreshing and fragrant wines, often at a lower price.
“If you’re looking for a wine that is very well balanced between aromatics, freshness, and elegance, Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley would be a good wine to try,” Gosseaume notes.
Milder from the mountains
For a wine with milder fruity aromas and flavors, turn to Italy, which has produced Sauvignon Blanc since the grape was introduced to the country in the late 1880s. The Italian region of Alto Adige is known for bottles of Sauvignon Blancs that range from crispy, fresh, and easy-drinking to voluminous and full-bodied — and which are notably higher in alcohol than New Zealand bottles.
Alto Adige is near the Alps at the very top of Italy and not far from the Mediterranean Sea. Letizia Pasini, export manager at Colterenzio, credits the region’s mild alpine continental climate, constant sunshine, and calcareous soils for the “tangy acidity and creamy texture.” The climate and terroir are also to thank for the “balanced herbaceous, floral, and delicate stone fruit notes.”
“Our region does not produce as pronounced aromas and flavors as New Zealand,” says Pasini. “Our Sauvignon Blancs are milder, less grassy, have less intense tropical fruit and more yellow fruit, though the wine still maintains very identifiable grape variety characteristics.”
Enter South America
The Americas produce their fair share, too: Chile has the third-highest production of Sauvignon Blanc globally.
“During the last 20 years in Chile, we have had a revival of Sauvignon Blanc with new production techniques, vineyard sites, stainless steel aging, and the planting of new clonal selections that brought very good results,” says Max Weinlaub, winemaker at Concha y Toro.
Chilean Sauvignon Blanc generally offers freshness and zesty acidity, with fresh tropical and citrus fruit flavors. However, it’s impossible to generalize because the country has so many microclimates and soil types, that it produces a wide variety of flavors and styles.
Along the Pacific Coast, Sauvignon Blanc is influenced by the breezy Humboldt Current. Near the foothills of the Andes, the coolness of the higher elevation and greater exposure to sunlight produces more intensity. Northern regions like the Atacama, Límari, and Maule Valleys deliver more mineral richness, while in central areas like Colchagua, Casablanca, and Leyda Valley, the Sauvignon Blanc is more fruit-driven.
“Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is somewhere in the middle of a New Zealand and Sancerre style,” says Matías Ríos, winemaker at Cono Sur. “Our Sauvignon Blancs have body, and they can be big on the palate, but we don’t lose that freshness. We don’t just have herbal character. We have a lot of fruit character, too, that’s nicely concentrated.”
Ríos adds, “With our diverse terroir and climates, we can create a wine that’s full of complexity with fruity, green chili, lime, and citrus character.”
Home-grown Sauvignon Blanc
And then there is the U.S.
The cool climates and coastal influences of wine regions like Sonoma County offer the best conditions for Sauvignon Blanc, as the warmer daytime temperatures and cooler nights help grapes ripen to their full tropical and stone fruit potential in inland areas. Meanwhile, a mixture of old-time marine layer soil and volcanic gravel add to the wine’s terroir.
“I love tropical, super aromatic Sauvignon Blanc. And I like when it opens up with nuances of really ripe peach. It reminds me of the peach trees we had when I was growing up on our little farm,” says Alicia Sylvester, winemaker at Banshee Wines.
At Banshee, Sauvignon Blancs have a richer texture and perceived sweetness that are products of lees stirring and added yeasts, which gives the wine a creamy characteristic, along with Sauvignon’s signature zippy acidity. Other winemakers may opt for barrel aging, while others like to make Sauvignon Blanc in stainless steel tanks and concrete eggs.
“That’s the thing about California — we get to use really fun tools and experiment to create an overall fresh, crisp Sauvignon Blanc that is somehow still fruity and extremely aromatic,” Sylvester says.
It’s not just California where Sauvignon Blanc is produced. Winemakers from New York to Michigan and Washington State are also making a mark.
So the next time the mood calls for something crisp, fresh, and refreshing, reach for a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from a region beyond New Zealand. The options for value and quality are limitless if you know where to look.
Cono Sur Bicicleta Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2020 (~$10)
Made from organic grapes, this Sauvignon Blanc by Cono Sur displays citrus aromas of lemon, lime, and grapefruit. The palate is highly concentrated and full of freshness supported by yellow and green pepper nuances, balanced acidity, and dashing minerality.
Concha y Toro Gran Reserva Serie Riberas Sauvignon Blanc 2021 (~$14)
The aroma of this wine is so intense that it nearly jumps out of the glass with citrus and fresh basil notes. Prickly acidity and minerality shape the wine’s backbone while nuances of crushed stone extend through the long, refreshing finish.
Abbazia di Novacella Sauvignon Blanc 2020 (~$20)
Lively and bright, this Sauvignon Blanc from Alto Adige has lovely acidity with a spicy quality that gives it a unique edge. Ripe fruit and florals like elderflower lead the aromas, while the palate is saturated with herbal and grapefruit characters with a hint of banana pepper.
Elena Walch Castel Ringberg Sauvignon Blanc 2020 (~$27)
This wine is made by one of Alto Adige’s leading producers, Elena Walch. A deep yellow color shimmering with green highlights, this Sauvignon Blanc exudes an elegant structure backed by ripe, tart berry flavor and dried herbs. The finish is lively and long.
Hosmer Winery Finger Lakes Sauvignon Blanc 2020 (~$16)
From New York’s Finger Lakes wine region comes this mouthwatering wine. Floral aromas give the wine a unique edge while the palate is rich with lemon and lime nuances. The finish balances out with juicy acidity.
Banshee Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc 2020 (~$18)
Banshee’s Sauvignon Blanc is quite the big hit, scoring 90 points from critics at Wine Enthusiast and Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. That’s not surprising, considering the lush and ripe aromas and flavors of lemon custard, pineapple, and papaya jumping out of the bottle. In the finish, a surprisingly sprinkle of sea salt makes for one genuinely refreshing wine.
Lionel Gosseaume Domaine de Pierre Touraine Les Sauterelles 2020 (~$10)
This dry wine offers aromas of pink grapefruit and ripe peach. The palate is perfectly fresh with acidity while the finish is delightfully long.
Pierre Chainier Domaine Roc de Châteauvieux Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2021 (~$12)
From Domaine Roc Chateauvieux, located in the heart of Touraine, comes this light and smooth Sauvignon Blanc. Fragrances and flavors of citrus fruits are abundant, while a slight minerality and fresh acidity round out the palate.