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Sauvignon Blanc: Your Guide to This Dry White Wine Favorite
McKenzie Hagan |
When it comes to white wine, the two varieties that tend to top most wine lovers' lists are Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. This dynamic duo undoubtedly deserves top billing, with each vino offering its own distinct characteristics. While Chardonnay is best known for its oaky, buttery complexity (and those endless wine mom memes), Sauvignon Blanc awakens the senses with its bright aromas and crisp, herbaceous flavors (you've probably heard it described as "grassy" at one point or another).
But there's much more to Sauvignon Blanc than its status as a popular dry white wine. Get ready to learn all about Sauvignon Blanc wine, including where it comes from, what it tastes like (hint: it's not just grass!), and how it's made. You'll also discover some fun facts and pro tips on the best way to enjoy Sauvignon Blanc from ideal glassware (yes, it matters) to fantastic food pairings.
What Is Sauvignon Blanc?
Sauvignon Blanc is a green-skinned white grape variety from the Loire Valley and Bordeaux in France. Named after the French words for "wild" (sauvage) and "white" (blanc), this wildly popular wine grape favors cooler climates, which prevents it from becoming too sweet and keeps that trademark piquant acidity intact.
Fun fact: Along with Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc is the parent grape of Cabernet Sauvignon, the world's most popular red wine.
In addition to its native home of France, Sauvignon Blanc grapes are grown in other Old World wine regions — including Italy, Austria, and Hungary — as well as throughout the New World, including California (most notably Napa Valley and Sonoma), New Zealand (Marlborough), Australia (Adelaide Hills and Margaret River), South Africa (Stellenbosch), and Chile (Casablanca).
To sound like a real wine savant at your next wine tasting party, here's a quick breakdown of the previously mentioned synonyms for Sauvignon Blanc based on region of production:
- Sauvignon Bianco: Italy
- Fumé Blanc: United States (the word "fumé" means “smoke” in French, and the moniker was coined by American winemaker Robert Mondavi back in the ‘60s)
- Muskat-Silvaner: Austria
In general, Sauvignon Blanc has low to moderate alcohol levels, ranging from 12.5-14% alcohol by volume (ABV). For more details on how to determine how boozy your bottle is, don't miss our guide covering everything you need to know about the alcohol content of wine.
How Is Sauvignon Blanc Wine Made?
Like all other wines, Sauvignon Blanc grapes are harvested, pressed, and then fermented to produce alcohol. As explained in our guide to viniculture, if the winemaker stops the fermentation process before it finishes, there will be more residual sugar, and therefore a sweeter wine. However, most Sauvignon Blanc is produced in a dry style, which means it has lower sugar content.
The way the wine is aged also makes a difference in how it tastes. While most Sauvignon Blanc is aged in stainless steel barrels (giving it that signature crisp, fruity quality), you can find some versions that are aged in oak barrels — particularly those of the Fumé Blanc variety. Naturally, these oaked styles impart more spiced notes (think vanilla or clove) that come from the wood.
Although it's a well-known single varietal, Sauvignon Blanc is also popular when blended with other white grapes. To create White Bordeaux, it's mixed with Semillon and Muscadelle in either sweet or dry versions. It's also mixed with the same wine grapes to produce the beloved Sauternes dessert wine — only in this instance, the grapes are affected by noble rot to create that intense sweetness.
Fun fact: Some people confuse Sancerre as being the same thing as Sauvignon Blanc, and the confusion is understandable. Sancerre is a wine region in France’s Loire Valley where its namesake white wines are made exclusively from Sauvignon Blanc grapes. So, while all Sancerre wines are Sauvignon Blancs, the reverse is not true. Sort of like how all tequilas are mezcals, but not all mezcals are tequilas.
What Does Sauvignon Blanc Wine Taste Like?
For the most part, you can count on Sauvignon Blanc being a medium-bodied dry wine, which means it’ll feel like it has some weight to it and no sweetness. Also, it's perhaps best known for its pronounced acidity, so don't be surprised if it makes your mouth pucker just a bit.
That said, some Sauvignon Blanc winemakers produce it with a bit more residual sugar (and maybe even some oak barrels) to provide a richer, slightly sweeter taste.
Some of the most common tasting notes of Sauvignon Blanc include:
- Fruit flavors such as white peach, grapefruit, lime, pear, passion fruit, and other tropical fruit
- Herbaceous hints of cut grass, lemongrass, and tarragon
- Spicy notes of green bell pepper, jalapeño, vanilla, nutmeg, and clove
- Earthy, mineral tones such as wet stone and chalk (sometimes described as flinty, which refers to flint rock that forms on chalk)
Pro tip: Sauvignon Blanc is quite expressive of terroir, so when you're shopping for your next bottle, pay attention to details such as where the wine was produced, how it was aged (oak or unoaked), and whether it's a blended or single varietal. As with any wine, each of these elements play a role in how the finished product tastes.
What’s the Best Way to Enjoy Sauvignon Blanc?
The simple answer to this question is: however and whenever you want. But we're not going to leave you hanging with an open-ended answer like that. Here are some top tips to keep in mind when you're ready to get cracking on a new bottle.
As with all white wines, Sauvignon Blanc is best served chilled. As you may have learned in our guide to wine temperatures, if you serve it too warm, the alcohol will be too strong, causing the acidity to go dull. If you serve it too cold, those vibrant aromas and flavors will fizzle fast.
For best results, serve it at 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit. (If you happen to have an oaked version, you can serve it on the warmer side of that range.) To get the ideal temp, place it in the fridge two hours before serving.
Pro tip: If you're short on time, you can put your bottle of wine in an ice bath for about half an hour to 45 minutes. Use our guide on how to quickly chill wine for more must-know hacks.
Tasty Food Pairings
You'll be thrilled to learn that Sauvignon Blanc is considered one of the best wines for food pairing, especially when it comes to seafood — shellfish, oysters, halibut, and other white fish are winners. Along with dry Riesling, it's one of those vinos that goes perfectly with sushi.
Some of the best cheese pairings for Sauvignon Blanc are fresh, young selections like feta, ricotta, goat cheese, mascarpone, and mozzarella. This tangy white wine also works really well with white meats, including chicken and pork.
As for veggies, think green. The wine's herbal notes will nicely punctuate everything from fresh salads to grilled or sautéed asparagus, zucchini, and green beans — even better if you throw in some fresh herbs. Sauvignon Blanc also tastes great with citrus and tropical fruits like papaya, passion fruit, or mango.
Best Type of Glass to Use
To make the most of your Sauvignon Bianco, consider sipping from a glass with a narrow bowl and long stem. Not only will this keep the wine aromas intact, but it'll prevent your hands from warming your drink. A standard white wine glass will do just fine.
Pro tip: If you're not convinced that glassware matters, see what science says about it in our guide to the different types of wine glasses.
It's Time to Get Sipping
With its uniquely herbal and refreshingly zesty taste, it's no wonder that Sauvignon Blanc is one of the most popular white wines in the world. And while it's best known as a dry sensation, it's not uncommon to find oaky versions that have a touch more spice. (It's also a beloved ingredient in some sweet wines, too.)
If you're on the hunt for a dry white wine, we'd be remiss not to mention our Usual Wines Brut. This light and refreshing bottle of bubbly will treat your taste buds to notes of lemon, elderflower, and bergamot. Even better, you can sip it straight from the single-serving bottle. (Actually, it's more like a pour and a half.) After all, unwinding with a glass of wine is always a good idea.