WSET® 2 Reading, Chapter 10: Sauvignon Blanc (Class Notes)

  • SB’s success due to creating clear expectations for the varietal (clean, crisp, refreshing, unoaked) in contrast to Chardonnay (made in a variety of styles).

THE FLAVOURS OF SB

  • Fruit: Green fruit.
  • Non-fruit: Vegetables (gooseberry, elderflower, green bell pepper, asparagus). 
  • Aromatics: High aromatics.
  • Acid: High acid.
  • Body: Medium body.
  • Sweetness: Almost always dry.
  • Oak: Most have no oak, as sought style is refreshing fruitiness. Those age d in oak generally come from moderate regions. Oak can add flavours of toast and spice (vanilla, liquorice).
  • Climate: Needs cool climate to show its herbaceous aromatic character, although it will tolerate a moderate one. Wines from moderate regions, however, tend to lack the intense pungent aromatic complexity from premium cool-climate wines.
  • Ageability: Most SBs do not benefit from bottle age: although they may last, they lose their attractive freshness and rapidly become stale.
  • Note: SB’s high acid allows suitability for sweet wines, especially in Sauternes.

PREMIUM SB REGIONS (THE GOOD)

  • Loire Central Vineyards
    • The villages of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé face eachother across the Loire
    • The cool climate results in dry white wines with high acid, medium body, moderate or pronounced aromas. These wines have green fruit, herbaceous aromas (gooseberry, grass, blackcurrent leafe, nettle) and often display a steely character similar to Chablis.
  • Bordeaux
    • Most premium white Bordeaux is a blend of Sémillon and SB, often with Sémillon dominating. SB alone is usually a fruity wine with distinctively herbaceous, grassy, and elderflower aromas, and is unsuited to ageing. Adding a proportion of Sémillon can help sustain the fruit character, and allows complexity to develop in the bottle. Sémillon wines generally add body to the blend too. Sémillon alone can be rather bland and neutral in youth, and adding a proportion of SB brings aromatic fruit character and refreshing acidity to the blend. These are dry wines, with medium or high acid, medium or full body, sometimes with oaky flavours. The very best wines, such as those from Cru Classé châteaux in the Pessac-Léognan AC and the best white Graves AC, age well and develop honeyed, toastly complex flavours in the bottle.
  • New Zealand
    • Cool-climate Marboroough in South Island, NZ has established itself as a new classic region for very expressive SB wines. There is an increasing range of styles as producers experiment and attempt to find a point of difference for their own wines, so some are more restrained, or show hints of oak or lees flavours, or are full-bodied. However, the classic style is dry, with high acid, no oak, medium body, and characterised by intense, pungent, clean varietal flavours (passion fruit, gooseberry, green pepper, blackcurrant leaf). These wines are best consumed while youthful and fresh, although some enjoy the vegetable (asparagus, pea) notes that develop in the bottle. SB from NZ are typically more aromatically pronounced compared with those from the Loire Valley.
  • Australia
    • The best SBs come from the Adelaide Hills region. These are intensely fruity and clean in style.
  • USA
    • In most parts of CA, the conditions are too warm for the herbaceous characteristics of SB to be retained. Despite the climate, some interesting wines are made, especially in the Napa Valley, often labelled as Fumé Blanc. Depending on the producer, and the consumer the wine is made for, the style may be unoaked, lightly oaked, or even heavily oaked.
    • Compared with the oak-aged Chardonnays from the same region the oaked Fumé Blancs are generally a little less full-bodied, and higher in acid. Some of the herbaceous varietal character of the SB (grass, asparagus) usually shines through the spicy, oaky flavours (toast, liquorice, vanilla).
  • South America
    • Chile is emerging as a source of herbaceous, fruit-led premium SB, particularly from cooler regions such as Casablanca and San Antonio. These wines tend to be highly aromatic and refreshingly fruity, with aromas of citrus, green apple, and grassy notes.
  • South Africa
    • High-quality SB in broadly two styles. Some are pungent and fruit driven, like those from NZ, but usually lighter in body, less intense and complex.
    • Others use oak to make a wine that is less pungent, but can age in the bottle, gaining toasty complexity. These follow the Bordeaux model, but have a more intense, herbaceous character.
    • Both Constantia and Elgin have a particular reputation for SB due to cooling influences. Where Constantia receives a constant cooling air from the sea, Elgin’s altitude provides a similar cooling effect, causing the late-ripening of the grapes, and producing intense, fresh SB.

BULK, INEXPENSIVE SB REGIONS (THE BAD)

  • Outside of the premium Loire appellations, France produces large volumes of inexpensive SB. Some of this is AC wine (e.g. Touraine AC). Much basic white Bordeaux AC (mainly SB-Sémillon blends) is inexpensive, high-volume wine. Bordeaux is increasingly selling varietally labelled pure SB, often at low prices. The Val de Loire and Pays d’Oc IGPs are also important sources of SB.
  • Chile, CA, and South Africa all produce inexpensive varietal SB.

SB IN BLENDS

  • The most important wines blended with SB are dry white Bordeaux and Sauternes. SB-Sémillon blends are also made in Australia, USA, and Chile, but demand for these is decreasing and fewer are being seen on the market.
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