Savvy Styles of Sauvignon Blanc

by Jenny Benzie, Advanced Sommelier + Certified Wine Educator, Proprietress of Épernay Wine & Spirits

When you think of summer, the seashore and what to drink, Sancerre is surely one of the first wines to pop into your mind. The distinctive racy acidity found in this lovely crisp, dry wine from France can also be found in the Sauvignon Blancs that hail from the other neighboring cool-climate villages of this better-known region.

Domaine Philippe Gilbert from Menetou-Salon is located adjacent to and just west of the more popular Sancerre region of the Central Loire Valley. Philippe took over as the vigneron to his family’s domaine, one of the largest in the area, located at the heart of this appellation after a successful career as a playwright. He practices biodynamic viticulture and the domaine is now certified as an organic producer as well.

This Sauvignon Blanc is an expression from the classic mix of clay and limestone that sits on the famous Kimmeridgian Basin that extends from Menetou through Sancerre to Chablis and then onto Champagne. The grapes are hand-harvested, fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks and the wine is aged on the lees for fourteen months before bottling. The nose of this wine is very expressive, with aromas of citrus zest and intense minerality. It is fresh and balanced on the palate with mouth-watering acidity that invites you for another sip.

Wine production in South Africa dates back centuries but received minimal international attention until Apartheid ended in the late 1990s. Out with the old, uninspired plunk made from the country’s co-operatives, in with the new small production family-owned vineyards and wineries that are able to currently compete on the world market. Cape Point Vineyards is located in Noordhoek in the Cape Point Peninsula of the picturesque Cape Town wine region. Their close proximity to the ocean and the ancient soils of the Table Mountain Range not only provides them with a phenomenal setting, but also a terroir ideal for the production of world-class Sauvignon Blanc that is strong in minerality and complexity.

This stunning South African value is brought to the United States by leading wine importer Bartholomew Broadbent who has also been featured as a Nantucket Wine Fest luminary. Mostly Sauvignon Blanc with a splash of Semillon which provides nuanced complexity, this wine is made in 100% Stainless steel with no oak influence what so ever. The wine is then aged three months on the lees (spent yeast leftover from fermentation) in the tank before being bottled for distribution.

The Mediterranean climate of the region offers intense sunlight and dry heat, coupled with the maritime coastal influences. Tropical fruit, grapefruit, lime burst in the aroma with an incredible mineral backbone that is focused and racy on the palate with a bright, clean finish.

Known as the coolest little wine region of New Zealand for more than just its cool climate temperatures, Waipara Valley is best known for its spicy, rich Pinot Noirs as well as its distinctive taste on Sauvignon Blancs. This unique region is located an hour north of Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island and the seat of the Canterbury region.

Grey’s Peak Winery is located in the most northern part of this region just kilometers as the crow flies to the eastern seaboard but protected by the hills in between. The winery is owned by Nantucket summer residents, Peter Thomas, a native New Zealander, and his wife Debbie, an all-American gal. The winery draws its name from the unique limestone conglomerate that is found as the bedrock on which the vine roots grow. The limestone hills are a mix of fossils, sea shells and small pebbles that slope down to clay, making the perfect combination for growing wines with minerality and concentration. This wine is wonderfully aromatic with lemongrass and fresh cut hay that has a lovely texture creaminess on the palate due to the barrel fermentation of the wine.

Named among the “Top 20 New Zealand Wineries” by Decanter magazine, you could sample this great wine while traveling on Air New Zealand or find it on island a bit closer to home at many of the events where Debbie is pouring it. She also offers free delivery anywhere on island when it is purchased from your local wine retailer.

Napa Valley is known for its big, juicy, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Sometimes in that special vineyard, located along the Napa River in the northern part of the valley, is that sweet spot that features a distinctive alluvial, clay soil just right making a small, extremely limited amount of Sauvignon Blanc.

Larkmead Vineyards located in Calistoga crafts this exclusive 100% Sauvignon Blanc wine named ‘Lillie’ that maintains the beautiful, secondary white wine characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc, but replicates the palate that comes across with the weight and gravitas of Chardonnay. This is done by extended élevage (French term for the progression of wine between fermentation and bottling) in French oak barrels, along with lengthy bottle aging for the wine to integrate before release.

Pale gold in color, the wine has warm aromas of fresh wild flowers with mint and lime curd. The honeyed viscosity offers the depth of a wonderfully textured wine that carries an incredible amount of immediate drinking pleasure. Drink with: freshly baked clafoutis (baked French dessert of fruit, traditionally black cherries, arranged in a buttered dish and covered with a thick flan-like batter)

This Sauvignon Blanc trip around the world will surely make you consider the source of it.