According to a recent survey of 400,000 UK wine drinkers, Sauvignon Blanc is our top choice when it comes to grape varieties. Apparently the zesty, gooseberry and fresh-cut grass flavours of this grape beat all others in every British town, city and county, apart from Berkshire where they seem to prefer the nation’s second choice, Chardonnay.
Frankly I was quite surprised at the results. I had thought that Italian favourites Pinot Grigio and Prosecco would be near the top, but they languish down the chart, beyond Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and even Pinot Noir.
So what is it about Sauvignon Blanc that makes it so popular?
First of all it is easy to say and I hope I am not casting scorn on anyone’s pronunciation skills with this statement. If you want to ask for a wine in a shop or a restaurant then getting the name right is essential. Grüner Veltliner, Gewürztraminer and even Viognier might be a lot more popular with simpler names.
Soo-vin-yon Blonk is the correct way to say the name but many people, including winemakers, now call it “Sav Blank” which means that it is snappy and easily identifiable. And while Soo-vin-yon is grown around the world, there is nothing on earth that would permit a Frenchman to refer to his beloved Sancerre or Bordeaux Blanc wine as “Sav”. If someone calls a wine Sav Blank they really mean a New World wine, probably from New Zealand.
Accessibility is another reason to favour this grape. Most Sauvignons come with screwcaps which means there is no hunting for the corkscrew mid-conversation when the bottle runs out. You can twist off the top and pour without missing a beat. And wherever it comes from in the world there is a theme running through the flavour of them all – snappy, zesty, refreshing flavours with varying levels of green leafiness, citrus, tropical fruit and minerally crunch.
Sauvignon Blanc is a thirst-quenching, lively taste bud reviver, suitable for sipping as an aperitif, teaming with starters, main courses and after dinner conversation. So where in the world should you go for the best flavours?
New Zealand has stamped its own personality on Sauvignon Blanc and in doing so has raised the world standard for this grape. Most of it grows in Marlborough at the top end of the South Island. Planted around 40 years ago, this former sheep country is now wall-to-wall vines, with regimented rows stretching into the distance. The soil is stony and the weather is cool, all of which help preserve Sauvignon’s green, leafy flavours and lively acidity. By picking grapes in successive weeks across the region from the shallow, fast-draining soils of the Wairau Valley to the even cooler, breezier Awatere Valley, growers can capture a range of flavours from fresh, herbaceous tones to more melon, peach and mango notes.
Try these Sauvignons for some of the best flavours.
• The Ned Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Waihopai River (Majestic, £10.99, down to £9.34 on multi-buy, current Waitrose offer £8.24). It is just so easy to drink this wine. Clean and lean with just enough chopped, green grassy herbal aromas, a touch of gooseberry on the palate, minerals and a long, refreshing finish. It sometimes comes down in price to a mouth-watering, thirst-quenching £7.50.
• Tinpot Hut Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (Ake & Humphris, Harrogate, £13.20). A light, fresh, green style of Sauvignon, with crushed blackcurrant leaves and lemongrass notes underpinned by rounded melon fruit. The 2014 is just making its way into shops, but like most Kiwi Sauvignons there is no need to rattle the bottles on the shelves to find the youngest vintage. The 2013 is still drinking well.
• Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Halifax Wine Co, £15.95). Given just one choice from New Zealand, this is the wine I would select. Made by Kevin Judd, it is lively and refreshing with layers of melon, peach and passionfruit with a rounded, positive style. Delicious in its youth, this is a wine that will build its flavours in bottle for a couple of years. It sells out each year so buy lots and tuck it away.
Bordeaux has been growing Sauvignon Blanc for centuries but only recently put the grape variety on the label. The style is more citrus and minerals than nettles and gooseberries, and occasionally it is lifted by a splash of Semillon, becoming a good food wine for fish and salads. The Loire is also a key region for Sauvignon, from a simple Vin de Pays to a top-notch Sancerre.
• Sauvignon Blanc Vin de Pays du Val de Loire 2013 (Marks & Spencer, £7.49). Packed full of crunchy minerally fresh, lime and lemon fruit. A real wake-up call for the taste buds.
• Dourthe No 1 Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Bordeaux (The Wine Society, £7.95). A fresh-tasting floral style, with clean, bright citrus flavours and a long, balanced finish.
• Waitrose Sancerre la Franchotte, Joseph Mellot 2013 (£14.99). Made in partnership with top Sancerre producer Joseph Mellot, this wine heads straight down the gooseberries-and beach-pebbles route with hints of fatter apricot flavours on the finish. Delicious with grilled sea bass.
• The Point Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Western Cape (Sainsbury’s, £8). I was almost blown away when I visited these vineyards at Cape Point, not just by the wind but also by the zesty flavours backed by streaks of tropical fruit and green leafy herbs. Great value.
• Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Elgin (Waitrose, £11.99). Made from grapes grown on a windy ridge that catches the breeze from two oceans, this has flavours of pear and apples and a squeeze of lime juice. There is plenty of freshness with minerally undertones which makes it a perfect foodie wine. Think Sancerre with reliability and a screwcap.
• Matetic Corralillo Sauvignon 2014, San Antonio, (Majestic, £11.99, £7.99 on multi-buy). Once again, a coolish vineyard site in the Leyda Valley brings out the bright, green flavours of Sauvignon. There’s a touch more tropical fruit in this, with a sprinkle of herbs and a rounded texture. If you are a member of the Wine Society then it is just £7.95 without all the multi-buy restrictions of Majestic.
• Errazuriz Aconcagua Costa Sauvignon Blanc 2013, (Hoults, Huddersfield, £13.99). From the new, cool, coastal region of Manzanar, just 12km from the Pacific Ocean, this Chilean Sauvignon is hitting the mark for fresh, herb-sprinkled, grapefruit and passionfruit flavours.