Sauvignon blanc wine is one of the most popular varieties–and the best may come with a lower price tag than you might think, so long as you know how to find it.
In fact, this may a special Nappa Valley Sauvignon Blanc wine was awarded the distinction of the wine of the week by The Press Democrat, a newspaper based in Santa Rosa California that has been in operation since 1857, under various names. The price tag? Just twenty-eight dollars for a bottle.
The Cliff Ledge 2018 Sauvignon Blanc wine is described as aromatic, complex, but also light. Grapefruit, tangerine, lemon and a touch of apricot make for a delightful, citrus-infused wine. Bright acidity makes the flavor bold enough but still pleasant.
Chris Tynan, who has in the past been in charge of other vineyards, including Blankiet Estate, Colgin Cellars, and Cain Vineyards, describes Sauvignon Blanc as a classic wine, with the potential to achieve a drink that is both rich and elegant with considerable depth.
If you have doubts of his expertise, consider that to date he can boast seven of his wine receiving a perfect score of one hundred from established wine critic Robert Parker.
But is it this specific wine, or is there really something special about Sauvignon Blanc wine in general? We’ll take a look at what Sauvignon Blanc wine is, how to find it, and what to look for.
What is Sauvignon Blanc wine?
Sauvignon Blanc wine is a white wine like Chardonnay but has a distinct flavor based on citrus and herbaceous notes. One of the most popular wines in the United States, Sauvignon Blanc wine first originated from Bordeaux, France, the same location where classic red wines Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon came from.
The grape that produces the wine has light green skin and is native to Bordeaux, but is now grown around the world. Known to ripen early but bud late, the grapes thrive in sunny locations but are grown in different climates–which impacts the overall flavor.
Interestingly, Sauvignon Blanc was among the first wines to be sold with screw cap bottles in a mass commercial way–perhaps due to its enormous popularity, but this also bodes any consumer to use caution when searching for the best Sauvignon Blanc wine.
Where is Sauvignon Blanc wine produced?
Sauvignon Blanc wine is produced around the world–showing just how versatile but also popular it is. Sauvignon Blanc is primarily produced in five major regions of the world, as well as a special region in South Africa, Italy, and Spain.
- North America: North America is a popular growing region for Sauvignon Blanc grapes. You can find growing regions in Washington State, patches of Ohio alongside the Erie river, parts of Canada, and California. Nonetheless, California is the primary region for Sauvignon in North America. Locations include Nappa Valley, as well as Sonoma.
- Australia may seem like an odd place for this wine, but it’s especially prominent the Southern Adelaide Hills region, as well as Padthaway growing region, also in Southern Australia.
- Brazil, as well as Chile, have less conventional growing regions. In Chile, the cooler climate produces a different taste to the Sauvignon Blanc.
- New Zealand is fairly new to Sauvignon Blanc; the variety was first most notably produced starting in the 1990s on the South Island, and eventually the Marlborough growing region, as well as near the Wairau River. As popularity increased, the growing regions spread to North Island, Hawks Bay, and other locations on South Island.
- France, perhaps the original place or growing the grape variety, has vineyards primarily in Bordeaux and Loire Valley.
Are there different ways Sauvignon Blanc wine is produced?
Yes. Like most wines, Sauvignon Blanc wine is produced in different ways, both two are most notable: barrel/ oak fermenting and steel.
Oak fermentation or aging produces a richer, more creamy texture. Though actually less common, these wines are prized for sweeter hints, such as vanilla and even lemon curd. They also tend to be more oily wines.
In contrast, the more prevalent method, which uses either steel or concrete, produces wine with higher acidity levels, and grapefruit and lime flavors with a hint of herbs. These tend to be much cheaper than barrel aged Sauvignon Blanc, and also less rich.
What are some defining characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc wine?
Defining characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc focus on the general type of wine and some associated flavors–but because those flavor notes vary so much based upon the region (which will cover in a moment)–here are the consistent characteristics:
- Dry wine. Most Sauvignon Blanc wines are considered dry to very dry, with very low sugar levels, making for a stronger wine. Dry wines, in case you don’t know, simply refers to wines that have little to no remaining sugars. In order to produce a dry wine, winemakers allow fermentation to be complete and do not leave any sugars behind. Dry wines are typically paired with more savory meals or snacks, as opposed to dessert wines, which tend to have higher sugar levels.
- Medium to high acidity with most wines leveling out at modest levels of acidity. Acidity in wine is an essential component to the overall taste and experience of wine and results in a tart taste. Wines of all kinds fall in a PH level of about 2.5 to 4. More acidic wines have a tarter taste.
- Citrus notes. While flavor notes vary by region, most Sauvignon Blanc wines contain distinct citrus notes, which plays well with the medium to medium-high acidity and brings out the flavor of the dry wine. Grapefruit, lemons, and tangerines are the most common flavor notes.
- Medium body. The majority of sauvignon blanc wines are medium in body. Body refers to the mouthful feel you get as you drink; more full-bodied wines feel heavier in the mouth.
- Crisp. Most varieties of this white wine are described as both crisp and satisfying, a truly classic experience for white wine.
- High tannins. In general Sauvignon Blanc wines are noted for medium to high levels of tannins. The higher the tanin, the more sharp and bitter the wine will be. That adds flavor to the wine, and is greatly balanced with other things, such as citrus notes, but also may not be to everyone’s preference.
What are the flavor notes of Sauvignon Blanc wine?
While it may seem like a simple question, in reality, it is a complex one. Since Sauvignon Blanc is fairly versatile and grown in a variety of regions around the world, the taste and flavor notes do differ quite a bit, depending on the growing region. Do note that these are generalizations, and varieties may occur within specific growing regions.
- New Zealand: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wines tend to feature the classic grapefruit and lemon notes, but also a surprising touch of pineapple. Asparagus, peas and a touch of grass add complexity to a tropical fruit taste. There is also a hint of spice, which can range from mild to moderate, with peppery notes.
- Nappa & Sonoma: These California growing regions produce wines with richer grapefruit notes, mandarin oranges, and just a touch of lemon and lime. With the sheer number of varieties, you’ll also find passion fruit and kiwi, though less common. A touch of grass is not uncommon.
- France produces “old world” Sauvignon Blanc wines and tends to have more subdued, classic citrus flavors and aromas. Grapefruit and lemon are often complemented with soft touches of nectarine, grass, and green apple. If exposed to oak, a vanilla note sometimes develops. Of the varieties, these are the most gentle and classic wines.
- Chile wines often add a bit of heat on top of classic citrus notes. Grass, lime juice, and green banana are other notable flavors, and these wines tend to be especially affordable since they are produced most of the year.
What does Sauvignon Blanc wine pair with?
Wine pairings are a way to know what the wine is best served with. Sauvignon Blanc is considered a savory wine and marries well with both herby and briny tastes. Unlike some wine, it actually goes a bit better with light appetizers and seafood than it does rich meets. Suggested wine pairings include:
- Oysters, Sole, and other light seafood
- Herbs and vinaigrettes
- Tart dairy dips and sauces
- Fresh green vegetables, including zucchini, artichokes, asparagus, and peas
With Sauvignon Blanc wines exposed to oak, you might also pair it with fattier fishes such as salmon and trout, or even smoked eel. It also does well with vegetables in cream based sauces.
Wines from cooler regions, notably New Zealand, are most suited for fresh cool greens, like salads, herbs and green peppers, as well as small fish cakes, and spices like chili and coriander.
How do I find the best Sauvignon Blanc wine?
Finding the best Sauvignon Blanc wine comes down to two factors: quality and preference. In terms of preference, as you can see, the sheer variety of Sauvignon Blanc wines available means selection is partially predicated on what kind of flavors you prefer. Here are the factors you need to consider, as well as how you can tell a higher quality wine over a lower quality one.
- Growing region. As you know, the growing region can impact flavor greatly, in part because of the climate under which the grapes are grown. If you want a wine that is more subtle and classic, go for Sauvignon Blanc from France. For a bolder and more tart wine, slightly less rich wine, California is a good bet. Chile adds heat, while New Zealand folds in tropical fruit notes.
- Production method. Both barrel aged and steel or concrete methods can produce pleasant wine, but if you want the deepest flavors, and a wine that is richer and has natural oils, go for a barrel aged one. A steel or concrete wine may be just fine, but you want to have those complex notes nor the touch of vanilla which can really lift the dry nature of the wine.
- What are you serving? What you plan on serving your wine with also makes a difference. If you envision a salad course, consider a cooler growing region, like New Zealand. For seafood fare that’s on the lighter side, California wine would do the trick, but French wine is a classic choice, especially with fattier fish and cheese.
- Complexity. The best Sauvignon Blanc wines are complex. How do you tell? Look at the flavor notes. Citrus notes provide a nice balance with a dry wine, but you want something else–whether that is vanilla, a bit of spice, or herb notes to add that layer of complexity.
- Balance. This is true of all wines, but especially so when it comes to Sauvignon Blanc. Since Sauvignon Blanc tends to be a tart, more acidic and dry wine, you want to select one that balances these harsher notes. Subtle citrus, a more full body, richer finish, and a touch of sweetness or even heat is a good way to balance. Many wine consumers also prefer some level of earthy taste, whether it’s grass or herbs.
- Hand vs machine harvested. This is an issue that may or may not dissuade, but many Sauvignon Blanc wines are machine harvested. Hand harvested tend to produce a more expansive aroma and flavor profile, because, if done properly, there are fewer juices prematurely released. It is not always possible to tell, but some wines may not that they are hand harvested. Machine harvesting is a general practice but used even more commonly for highly popular wines such as Sauvignon Blanc.
- Ask the experts. Of course, our site is your all-inclusive guide to discovering wines by type, region, and variety, but when it comes to individual bottles of wine, also look at what experts and customers have to say. Wine critics are able to distinguish body and flavor notes and compare the quality to other comparable wines. Prizes and high ratings are good signs, but of course, see why they are rated the way they are.
- Vineyard. Check the vineyard’s location and reputation. The vineyard should have a history of proper sales and a reasonable reputation. It also is best in locations most noted for growing and producing Sauvignon Blanc, however, there are some exceptions, as we will see below. Always check if there is contact information, a physical address, and a history of the vineyard before you consider purchasing. You should always be at least somewhat aware where the wine comes from.
- Price range. You don’t have to go very expensive, but you also don’t want to go too cheap, either, You can find many suitable Sauvignon Blanc wines at around fifteen to thirty dollars a bottle. Do note, of course, that barrel aging, and the age of the wine itself will add to the price tag.
Can you make any recommendations as to some of the best Sauvignon Blanc wines?
As you can imagine, there are countless varieties of Sauvignon Blanc wines, so narrowing down the list can feel outright daunting at times. Nonetheless, here are a few Sauvignon Blanc wines to get you started, keeping in mind some of the criteria we’ve mentioned and also only selecting highly rated options.
- Benziger Family Winery, 2017 Sauvignon Blanc: Produced in Northern California, this Sauvignon Blanc wine is a fresh, light pick if you’re not sure about the bolder tastes of some white wines. You’ll appreciate notes of honeysuckle along with pear and apple among more classic citrus notes. It has a medium acidity and comes from a vineyard dedicated to sustainable practices.
- North Row Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016: With the distinction of gold certification by professional experts, this Sauvignon Blanc heralds from New Zealand and is a complex blend of citrus and acidity without the heavy price tag. Notes include passion fruit, herbs, spices, and fresh lemon.
- Cordier Labottiere Prestige 2016: This Sauvignon Blanc comes from the classic Bordeaux growing region and earns its name as a truly classic bottle of wine. Noted for a lasting finish and balanced acidity, notes include grapefruit, peach, and subtle citrus, for a nuanced but elegant blend.
- Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2017/18: If you want a tried and true classic Sauvignon Blanc, consider one from Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards. The vineyard itself, which is located in Oregon, but nonetheless boasts the distinction of nine awards for America’s Finest Wines 2017 competition, taking titles such as Best of Class, Double Gold, Gold, and Silver. Expect a fuller body, a crisp level of acidity, and signature notes including grapefruit, lemon, and even gooseberry and tropical fruits.
Whatever bottle of Sauvignon Blanc wine you settle on, make sure to keep personal preferences in mind. If you aren’t sure where to start, we recommend you take a look at our handy A to Z wine guides.