Sauvignon Blanc: New Zealand vs. Sancerre
One of my favorite things about wine is that the same grape variety can produce drastically different wines depending on where it's grown. It seriously makes me giddy. I wanted to demonstrate this for you, my dear readers, so I chose to focus on two regions that produce classic examples of Sauvignon Blanc: Marlborough, New Zealand and Sancerre, which is in the Loire Valley region of France.
Sauvignon Blanc produces a very aromatic wine that is high in acidity and best drunk young while its flavors are fresh and fruity. It generally expresses aromas and flavors of passion fruit, elderflower, and green pepper, along with herb-y, grassy notes when grown in cool to moderate climates (which is ideal). In warmer climates it can take on a tropical fruit character and it won't be as refreshing because it will lack the crispness that the high acidity lends to the wine. Within the ideal cooler climates, variations in soil, temperature, and winemaking techniques can lead to a wine that is more or less herbaceous.
New Zealand's signature grape variety is Sauvignon Blanc. When you think of the grape, you probably think of this region, or more specifically, Marlborough. There are two valleys in Marlborough where the majority of Sauvignon Blanc is planted - Wairau and Awatere. They each give the wine different characteristics and many wines from Marlborough are a blend of wines from both valleys. The soils of Wairau are gravelly which gives the wine a very strong green or red pepper aroma, while Awatere is windier and cooler causing the wine to have a higher acidity and show a tomato note.
Onward and upward to the Northern Hemisphere! Sauvignon Blanc is also grown in France, but cleverly disguised under various appellation names. One of the most important being Sancerre. This is in the easternmost portion of the Loire Valley (the furthest from the sea). Here the climate is continental, which means that it has very cold winters and hot summers. The soil is chalky, stony and contains marine fossils, which can contribute a mineral character to the wines from this region. The classic style of Sancerre is more subtle than that of Marlborough - the wine isn't as overtly herbaceous and fruity. To achieve this, the wine is fermented at slightly warmer temperatures so that there is less retention of the intense Sauvignon Blanc characteristics.
Now that you have a little background on Sauvignon Blanc, I've selected two wines that will give you a more tangible example of the regional differences in the wine. In the red corner, weighing in at 12.5% abv, don't say you smell kiwi, a 2013 hailing from Marlborough, it's the Ponga Sauvignon Blanc! Yes, a boxing analogy. I went there. This was a really zesty and fruit driven wine with notes of lime, peach, grapefruit, passion fruit, and elderflower and it had the expected NZ characteristics of pungent green pepper and tomato. A solid example of a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and a good value at $12.99.
In the blue corner, tipping the scales at 13% abv, harvested in 2014, star of the Loire, it's Domaine Reverdy Ducroux Sancerre "Beau Roy"! True to form, this was more subtle than the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. It was crisp, refreshing, and aromatic. Tart citrus flavors were balanced by floral and fruity notes and the wine expressed notes of lemon, grapefruit, apricot, nectarine, chamomile, and grass, and finished with a nice mineral note. Really delicious!
I wouldn't dare pit two classic examples of a grape against one another because not unlike the end of Rocky I, there is no clear winner.
Or was I just really sleepy when I finished the movie? I hope you learned a little bit about one of my favorite white grapes and that you'll try a similar experiment of your own!
Ponga Sauvignon Blanc 2013: Thumbs up. Good value. $12.99
Domaine Reverdy Ducroux Sancerre "Beau Roy" 2014: Thumbs up! It's lovely. $17.00