Guide to Sauvignon Blanc Wine

Guide to Sauvignon Blanc Wine

Sauvignon blanc isn’t like any other type of white wine — and it doesn’t want to be.

Zippy, dry and full of earthy “green” flavors, sauvignon blanc is a refreshingly unique type of white wine boasting more than 30 years of explosive demand.

Explore this white wine type’s key characteristics, plus where it’s grown, food to pair it with and other serving and storage secrets to get the most out of your sauvignon blanc experience.

What Is Sauvignon Blanc Wine?

Sauvignon blanc is one of the world’s most popular white wine varietals.

Sharp, crisp, acidic and dry, sauvignon blanc presents a distinct palate and tasting experience for all who try a glass. The grape is considered a noble varietal, meaning it’s internationally recognized as a top-quality grape type capable of large-scale cultivation yet still expressing its unique terroir.

Sauvignon blanc itself means “wild white,” nodding to its lush, dense vine canopies and early ripening. The green-skinned varietal is now grown worldwide in a variety of cool and moderate climates, pairs well with dozens of foods and remains a bestseller on the consumer wine market.

Sauvignon blanc itself means "wild white," nodding to its lush, dense vine canopies and early ripening.

Sauvignon Blanc Pronunciation

Wondering how to pronounce sauvignon blanc? You’re not alone.

Sauvignon blanc is pronounced as “sah-veen-yohn-blahnk.” Drop the hard “k” when trying to be fancy and say it like the French, or stick with the well-accepted English phonetics. Now, next time you’re out to eat, you can order a glass of sauvignon blanc without fear!

History of Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon blanc grapes are said to have originated somewhere in the Loire Valley and Bordeaux regions of France.

Both provinces carry a storied wine history and are the homes of many other noble varietals, including the rhyming cabernet franc. In fact, the regional origins of these two wines — sauvignon blanc and cabernet franc — are so intertwined, they’re actually the parent varietals of the world’s most popular red wine, cabernet sauvignon.

Sauvignon blanc was a well-kept French secret until the late 19th-century when select vine cuttings were transplanted to northern California by experimental winegrowers. Their choice to use cuttings from some of Bordeaux’s most reputable vineyards paid off. The thin-skinned grape prefers temperate weather, which prolongs bud development but ripes its fruits quickly. The result is sauvignon blanc’s signature early maturation.

Sauvignon blanc was a well-kept French secret until the late 19th-century when select vine cuttings were transplanted to northern California by experimental winegrowers.

Sauvignon blanc came into consumer consciousness starting in the late 1960s. Its explosion in popularity is widely accredited to California wine legend Robert Mondavi, who rebranded California sauvignon blanc as Fume Blanc. The oakier, heavier Fume Blanc remains in production today but is joined by a premier set of sauvignon blanc wine grown across nearly every major wine-producing region in the world.

Yet perhaps no country solidified sauvignon blanc’s claim to wine-fame more than New Zealand. The country’s top varietal, New Zealand sauvignon blancs are expressive, fruity and lush and have been mass cultivated since the mid-1980s, launching an even deeper sauvignon blanc frenzy that carries on today. Not bad for a humble varietal from central France.

How Is Sauvignon Blanc Made?

Sauvignon blanc vines prefer sunny but moderate weather, letting their buds blossom late yet their fruits ripen early. This late-blossoming, early ripening balance is a hallmark of sauvignon blanc and one of the signature features winemakers master to produce this varietal across environments. Lucky for growers, sauvignon blanc grapes grow bountifully, producing generous — and sometimes overly dense — yields.

Regions most known for producing sauvignon blanc include:

  • Bordeaux
  • New Zealand
  • Northern California
  • Australia
  • South Africa
  • Chile
  • North Italy

After its September harvest, sauvignon blanc ferments in stainless steel tanks. The vast majority of this varietal will undergo stainless steel vat fermentation at “slow and low” temperatures between 42° to 50° F, preserving its sharp acidity while coaxing distinct fruit flavors. The slow-and-low method also allows sauvignon blanc’s chemical pyrazine compounds to flourish, producing this white wine’s unique herby, green characteristics.

In total, sauvignon blanc’s total harvesting, fermentation, filtering and bottling process can occur in as few as three to four months. The wine does well consumed young and doesn’t require much additional fermentation or racking. High-quality sauvignon blanc properly cellared can remain crisp and vibrant for years. However, it is still generally recommended to drink sauvignon blanc fresh to capture its full, bright acidity and earthy palate.

Characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon blanc’s vineyards span countries and climates. Its widespread cultivation means the white wine varietal carries distinct qualities depending on where it comes from — in taste and smell but also in subtler traits like acidity, mouthfeel and finish.

One description is guaranteed — sauvignon blanc wine is dry and zesty, with strong aromatic notes of flowers and vegetables. Beyond that, the fun begins.

1. Growing Conditions

Sauvignon blanc grapes grow best in sunny but temperate climates.

Sauvignon blanc grapes grow best in sunny but temperate climates. Overexposure to heat muddles the grape’s intense acidity while gentle, frequent sunlight develops its vegetal and light fruit flavors. The varietal benefits most from cool, even brisk, nights and requires a long dormant or vegetative state between growing seasons, which can help naturally tame its substantial canopy growth.

That said, sauvignon blanc is a thin-skinned grape. This makes it susceptible to several bud and vine-rot conditions, which winemakers combat with frequent leaf and vine trimmings to nurture proper yield control.

Other ideal growing conditions for the sauvignon blanc grape include:

  • Soil: Sauvignon blanc grows well in sandy, gravelly and clay-composed soils alike with various mineral compositions. The flavors lent from its soil type will affect the final flavors of a bottle of sauvignon blanc. In general, the chalkier the soil, the more mineral notes sauvignon blanc contains, while softer sand produces herb notes and denser, clay-forward soil will coax stronger fruits.
  • Spacing: Given its tendency to grow thick, dense canopies, sauvignon blanc vines are planted no less than 6 feet apart.
  • Water: Sauvignon blanc grapes require moderate-to-high water demand, especially in late summer, when vine canopies are at their thickest.

2. Body

Body refers to the way a wine feels in your mouth, such as its weight and texture. For that reason, you’ll often hear body discussed using the word “mouthfeel.”

Sauvignon blanc is generally a medium-bodied white wine. Sips will be flavorful and zippy but not heavy, with common mouthfeel descriptors like zesty and crisp. Its body is approachable for a wide variety of preferences. It is particularly great to pair with meals, as its medium body and average ABV — around 12.5 to 14% — stand up to diverse foods without growing overpowering.

3. Acidity

Sauvignon blanc is a high-acidity wine. Its high acidity gives the varietal a notably refreshing quality, with bright, loud flavors and aromas allowed to express in tart pops.

However, it’s important to remember acid does not make wine taste sour. Many compare the brightness of sauvignon blanc’s acidity to taking a bite out of a fresh, green granny smith apple, with flavor receptors on the sides and tip of your tongue responding for that lively tasting experience.

High acidity complements the drying sensation that occurs when drinking a typical glass of sauvignon blanc. As a rule of thumb, white wines will generally express more acidity than red wines, with a few exceptions, such as Sangiovese and Barbera d’Asti.

Aromas of Sauvignon blanc wine

4. Aromas

Sauvignon blanc is a highly aromatic white wine. Among its many signature smells, a glass of sauvignon blanc will carry notes of:

  • Lime
  • Fresh-cut grass
  • Chalk
  • Green bell peppers
  • Jalapeno
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemongrass
  • Wet stone
  • Flint

These common sauvignon blanc aromas lean on the earthy and herbaceous side. However, warm-climate sauvignon blanc — such as those from the Adelaide Hills of Australia — produce richer tropical fruit aromas suiting a fruiter overall profile.

5. Flavors

Sauvignon blanc provides a complex array of earthy, mineral and fruit flavors rounded by a lean, dry finish.

Green or herbaceous flavors will be the most pronounced when drinking sauvignon blanc, represented in the varietal’s iconic bell pepper and freshly cut grass notes rounded by light citrus. The warmer the climate and more clay-like the soil sauvignon blanc grapes grew in, the fruiter its tastes.

The most common flavors associated with sauvignon blanc include:

  • Primary earthy flavors: Lawn cuttings, basil, lemongrass, tarragon, celery
  • Primary fruit flavors: Lime, bell peppers, green apple, gooseberry, kiwi, passion fruit
  • Primary mineral flavors: Flint, chalk, wet concrete

6. Finish

For sauvignon blanc, finishes tend to be crisp and clean.

Finish describes the effect wine has on your tongue and mouth after you’ve swallowed a sip. For sauvignon blanc, finishes tend to be crisp and clean. The varietal’s high acidity and sharp aromatics are more expressive on the front-end of the tasting experience rather than waiting to pounce at the very end.

Cool Climate Versus Warm Climate Sauvignon Blanc

Like other varietals, one of the most critical factors in sauvignon blanc’s characteristics will be whether the wine was grown in a warm or cool environment.

1. Cool Climate Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon blanc’s green grapes thrive in cool climates. Ideally, vines are planted in spacious plots with unobstructed, persistent and direct access to sunlight but in areas where temperatures don’t grow hot or humid. Dry harvest periods extending through September are the best time to pick ripe sauvignon blanc grapes from cool climates, capturing their full acidity.

Defining features of cool-climate sauvignon blanc include:

  • Zippy, bright, peppery and herbaceous overall flavors
  • High acidity
  • Medium body
  • Earthy primary aromas
  • A tart finish

2. Warm Climate Sauvignon Blanc

There are far fewer warm-climate regions producing sauvignon blanc than cool climates. The best of them include wineries in Southeast Australia as well as coastal South Africa. Both these countries have received critical and commercial acclaim for their sauvignon blanc, and their warm yet coast-hugging climates allow the thin-skinned grape to express nuanced characteristics.

There are far fewer warm-climate regions producing sauvignon blanc than cool climates.

Warmer climates allow grapes to hang longer on the vine. As a results, grapes lose a bit of their acidity. Sauvignon blanc’s green, pyrazine-inspired compounds will also be somewhat softened by warmer weather, translating into deeper, richer tropical fruit notes.

Overall, warm-climate sauvignon blanc features the following traits:

  • Lush, vibrant tropical passion fruit, guava, kiwi and grapefruit flavors balanced by herbs
  • Medium-high acidity
  • Medium-high body
  • Earthy and fruity primary flavors
  • Sweeter finish

Types of Sauvignon Blanc

Today’s sauvignon blanc wines are categorized according to where a bottle comes from, not its ingredients or production recipes. All sauvignon blanc ingredients are the same, deriving from its namesake grape.

To experience the diversity amongst the different types of sauvignon blanc wine, consider trying bottles from any of the premier growing regions.

1. Loire Valley, France

France’s Loire Valley is an unequivocal champion of sauvignon blanc.

The appellations of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, in particular, produce some of the world’s purest representations of the white wine, balancing its earthy-mineral palate with bright pops of fruit. Think steely wet limestone marrying bell peppers, currants, lime, green apple and sweet basil. Loire Valley sauvignon blanc is medium-bodied, high acidity, dry and overwhelmingly unoaked, letting the mineral-soft notes steal the show.

2. Bordeaux, France

Not to be left in Loire’s shadow is the sauvignon blanc of Bordeaux, located in Southwest France. Spanning over 6,400 hectares, sauvignon blanc is the region’s second-most planted white wine varietal, maintaining over 45% of all white wine vines. Here, sauvignon blanc sits just behind Semillon grapes, grown across 7,728 hectares or 47% of all white wine vine.

Spanning over 6,400 hectares, sauvignon blanc is the region's second-most planted white wine varietal.

Sauvignon blanc is frequently blended with Semillon and Muscadelle grapes to create White Bordeaux, the region’s signature white wine blend. However, bottles of 100% Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc will contain flavors of white peach, honey, lemon zest, chalk, nettles and gooseberries, underscored by refreshing acidity.

3. New Zealand

The world has New Zealand to thank for bringing sauvignon blanc back to popular favor. The country’s South Island houses near-idyllic conditions for the thin-skinned and early ripening grape, especially the appellations of Marlborough, Hawke’s Bay and Nelson.

New Zealand is the second-largest producer of sauvignon blanc worldwide, behind only France. Opt for bottles from this new-world champion when looking for a bolder, more intense expression of the varietal. Expect flavors of pineapple, kiwi, jalapeno and rhubarb alongside and faint tastes of asparagus and a signature, passion fruit and lime zip. Note the lighter minerality in many New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, traded for those primary tropical fruit notes and a weightier overall mouthfeel.

4. South Africa

South Africa’s Western Cape brings another new world interpretation to the beloved sauvignon blanc.

Sub-regions like Elgin, Constantia and Stellenbosch plant vines in 65-million-year-old soils brined by nearby ocean winds. The combination of South Africa’s warm climate and minerally soil delivers a sauvignon blanc with ripe, juicy fruit notes and characteristic minerality. These two flavor profiles push to the forefront, letting the earthy, green herbs work behind the scenes. South African Sauvignon Blanc is unmistakably fruity yet rustic, featuring nectarine, honey, green apple, lemon and sweet peas punctuated by saline and limestone.

5. Chile

Chile’s Sauvignon Blanc is one of the newest to the scene. Winemakers in regions like the Casablanca and San Antonio Valleys are especially up-and-coming in today’s market. Their versions of the white wine varietal emphasize fruit and herbs, featuring lively and acidic gooseberry, lime and grapefruit flavors deepened by celery, green bell pepper and grass. What mineral traces remain tend to add to its medium-body while keeping the overall palate light and zesty.

Chile: Their versions of the white wine varietal emphasize fruit and herbs.

6. Washington State

With its sights set on beating California, its proverbial wine-country neighbor to the south, Washington State has ramped up its selection of sauvignon blanc. Sitting on the same parallel as Bordeaux, Washington State produces sauvignon blanc wines with similar acidity, body and herbal brightness while coaxing gentler fruit flavors. A bottle of sauvignon blanc from Washington State brings out notes like white peach, green apple, tarragon, lemongrass and limestone with a zesty uptick of nectarine. You’ll also find a handful of Washington State winemakers oaking their sauvignon blanc, producing a richer, heavier and more perfumed final varietal.

Storing Sauvignon Blanc

Storing and serving sauvignon blanc is highly approachable — the varietal doesn’t require much fuss.

Serve a newly opened bottle chilled, ideally between 50° and 55° F. You can easily achieve that temperature by cooling sauvignon blanc in the fridge for one to two hours, or by chilling in an ice bath for around 30 minutes.

1. Aging

Sauvignon blanc is generally not a varietal you want to hoard down in the cellar. It likes to be drunk young, letting its signature acidity and bright, bold green minerality sing. Trapping the contents for too long or keeping bottles out in the open can muddle these lively characteristics, leading to a dulled or flat set of flavors.

2. Storage Methods

Store unopened bottles of sauvignon blanc in a cool, dry and room temperature area away from windows or other light sources. Bottles can be stored upright or horizontally on wine racks. Place your bottle of sauvignon blanc in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving, or chill in an ice bath.

Again, while sauvignon blanc’s naturally high acidity can be preserved through proper cellaring, it’s still best to drink this varietal soon after purchase.

3. How Long Does Sauvignon Blanc Last?

Once opened, a bottle of sauvignon blanc will last between two to four days when kept in the refrigerator. After the fifth day, the wine will begin to oxidize, resulting in rough, astringent flavors unpleasant on its own. Never fear, though. White wine can still be used for cooking, flavoring sauces and marinades even after oxidization.

Best Food Pairings for Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon blanc is a staple wine to pair with meals. Its earthy palate and citrus undertones complement a variety of dishes and cuisines, including foods other wines outright clash with.

  • Shellfish: Scallops, crab, shrimp, clams and oysters make a delightful pairing with sauvignon blanc. The mild, sweet meats from these types of seafood stand well with sauvignon blanc on their own as well as when smothered in cream or citrus sauces.
  • Sushi: Sauvignon blanc is one of the few wine varietals that go well with sushi. Experts suggest crisper, mineral-forward cool-climate sauvignon blancs with sushi, such as a classic Loire Valley or Bordeaux.

Sushi + Sauvignon Blanc: Experts suggest crisper, mineral-forward cool-climate sauvignon blancs with sushi, such as a classic Loire Valley or Bordeaux.

  • Grilled fish: Select a sauvignon blanc when serving lightly charred white fish like sea bass, branzino, sablefish, haddock or grilled squid. The wine will uplift these fishes’ delicate, refined flavors to round out the meal.
  • Citrus: Accentuate a citrusy fruit salad or fruit-based dessert with the grapefruit and lime notes prevalent in South African and Chilean Sauvignon Blancs. These wines also work great with citrus-based sauces or glazes over white meat.
  • Thai cuisine: Traditional Thai dishes often center the use of fresh herbs and aromatics with a spicy finishing touch. Sweet wines will fight such cuisine, while a dry, crisp wine like sauvignon blanc complements the spices and fragrant herbs.
  • Roasted chicken: Sauvignon blanc works with nearly any chicken preparation, but especially those stuffed or garnished with classic French herbs like rosemary, thyme, tarragon, marjoram or the Herbs de Provence blend.
  • Garden salads: Salads featuring arugula, chard, fennel, pea shoots and peppers pair well with the herbaceous sauvignon blanc as do many composed salad recipes, like Nicoise.
  • Spring vegetables: Asparagus and artichokes are two of the most notoriously tricky vegetables to pair with wine — except for sauvignon blanc, that is.
  • Enchiladas: Break from the mold by serving fruiter Chilean or New Zealand sauvignon blancs with classic Mexican fare, such as enchiladas, especially those smothered in a green chile sauce.
  • Soft cheeses: Charcuterie boards dotted with soft cheeses like chevre, brie and camembert are a match made in heaven for the bright, zippy sauvignon blanc.
  • Sorbet and key lime pie: Bring out the full, tart qualities of these summer desserts with a glass of sauvignon blanc, whose dry palate and medium body ground these dishes’ sweetness yet amplify their citrus tang.

Order Sauvignon Wine Online

Marketview Liquor stocks all types of sauvignon blanc wines from premier and up-and-coming regions. Explore our sauvignon blanc wine catalog and order bottles for delivery right to your home.