Sauvignon Blanc, the French word for “wild white,” is a wine that easily lives up to its name. With flavor notes that range from “freshly mowed lawn” to “cat pee,” it might seem hard to believe it to be one of the most popular white wines.
Sauvignon Blanc began its story in France. Today, it grows worldwide and is responsible for propelling New Zealand into the world of winemaking.
In this guide, we’ll take a deep dive into Sauvignon Blanc wine, its growing region, tasting notes, serving recommendations, and of course, plenty of food pairings.
Characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon Blanc is a white wine grown predominantly in France and New Zealand. Although it is most often made in a dry style, semi-dry and sweet types are common.
The flavors of the wine will vary depending on the climate and ripeness of the Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Riper grapes give way to more plush tropical and citrus flavors, whereas underripe grapes can, unfortunately, make for vegetal and dull wines.
Sauvignon Blanc Tasting Notes
Sauvignon Blanc is a high-acid, light-bodied white wine, typically low-medium in alcohol, around 11-13% ABV. As a very green wine, it offers typical flavors of green bell pepper, grass, watercress, green tea, and lime. The term “cat pee” is also common, though it really just refers to a very subtle sulfurous aroma common in New Zealand Sauvignon grapes.
In warmer climates, Sauvignon Blanc will have more ripened tropical fruit flavors of mango, grapefruit and passion fruit. Smoke is also common, especially in regions with flint soils, such as Pouilly-Fumé.
Depending on the winemaker’s preference, Sauvignon Blanc can be fermented in stainless steel or oak barrels. In Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc is typically blended with Semillon and, to a lesser extent, Muscadelle. This “White Bordeaux” style is often repeated in other countries, including Australia, America, and New Zealand.
Notable Regions for Sauvignon Blanc
Loire Valley, France
Sauvignon originated in the Loire Valley of Central France, France’s most diverse wine-growing region. Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc are the Valley’s most predominant white wines, with the appellations of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé leading the way in the production of Sauvignon.
Sancerre wines are vibrant, youthful, and energetic, with detectable mineral and citrus flavors. Although Pouilly-Fumé, is similar to Sancerre in its structure, it is often more subtle in flavor, with delicate aromas of flowers and a bright citrus flavor.
In Bordeaux, Sauvignon is the major white grape alongside Semillon and when blended, these two produce what is referred to as a “White Bordeaux.” Sauvignon in Bordeaux exudes delicious fresh herbal flavors along with honeysuckle, lime, lemon, lemongrass, and snap peas. Oak fermentation is common and makes for more complex and richer-textured wines.
Within Bordeaux is the region of Sauternes, where botrytis-infected Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc are transformed into delightful dessert wines. The sweetness of these wines is reminiscent of rich flavors of honey, nuts, butterscotch, ginger, and baking spices.
If Sauvignon Blanc began its story in France, it’s safe to say the climax is in New Zealand. Today, it’s the leading varietal in the country and home to some of the best examples in the world.
Marlborough is New Zealand’s leading wine region, though top Sauvignon is often blended across different sites. The best examples are explosive with a ripe green flavor intensity of lime, fresh herbs, watercress, green figs, and subtle aromas of mango and passionfruit.
Most of these wines are fermented in stainless steel to preserve fresh flavors, though some winemakers may blend a portion in oak, then re-introduce that back to give the wine a more rounded flavor profile. Almost all Sauvignon in New Zealand is a dry wine, though a minute amount of residual sugar can appear depending on the ripeness of the grapes.
Sauvignon is most commonly found along the Margaret River and the Adelaide Hills of South Australia. These wines are a warmer climate style of Sauvignon and often have a fresh, fruity flavor profile with tropical, lime, and subtle herbaceous flavors. Blending with Semillon for a Bordeaux-style blend is common.
Along with Chardonnay, Sauvignon is considered one of Chile’s most important white grapes. It’s most commonly found in the Casablanca and Central Valleys. These wines range in quality, though the best examples are unmistakably fresh and youthful, with snappy, high acidity, green aroma, and bright citrus flavors.
Sauvignon Blanc Food Pairings
Sauvignon Blanc is a fantastic food pairing wine thanks to its green flavor, bright acidity, and crisp, clean texture. It’s an obvious choice for pairing with salad, herb sauces, goat cheese, chimichurri, or any cuisine that highlights fresh green flavors.
Cilantro, mint, basil, peas, and arugula are the perfect sidekicks to a tall glass of Sauvignon. You’ll love it with our light Pancetta Pasta with Fresh Mint & Peas and this 5-Minute Arugula Salad. So good!
Avoid hearty proteins like red meat or grilled dishes. While many styles of Sauvignon exhibit smoky flavors, they’re no match for heavily smoked meats or barbecue. Instead, pair it with shellfish or white meats. It’s a fantastic pairing alongside Shrimp Ceviche or this easy-to-make Stuffed Pork Tenderloin.
Whether you’re pairing it with food or sipping on its own, we think you’ll love exploring Sauvignon Blanc. Be sure to shout out below any favorite food pairings or specific Sauvignon Blanc wines you’ve tried and loved!