The Wine Curmudgeon loves sauvignon blanc. It’s usually inexpensive, and you can buy great wines for about $15. It’s food-friendly as well as refreshing on its own, something that can’t be said for a lot of chardonnays. Finally, it pairs with a variety of white wine foods, and especially with seafood -- oysters, mussels and even grilled shrimp. And it pairs with almost anything with garlic and parsley. In fact, just writing about sauvignon blanc, garlic and parsley makes me want to reach for a glass.
What causes the differences between the wines? A combination of weather, soil, and the winemakers’ preferences. The geography of New Zealand -– an island in the south Pacific -- is entirely different from that of Bordeaux, off the Atlantic coast of France. And California is completely different from both of them. Throw in winemaking differences –- the French do things differently from the Chileans -– and you have a wine with as many differences as similarities.
With that in mind, here’s a guide to the most important regions, what makes that region different, and some representative wines:
• France: The best sauvignon blanc in the world used to come from Sancerre, about 150 miles west of Paris. But prices have gone up, and quality has not improved. At its best, Sancerre is less fruity than the New World wines, with wonderful flinty qualities (look for wine from an area called Chavignol). But good luck finding anything for less than $20. A better bet are the $10 sauvignon blanc/semillion blends from Bordeaux, like Chateaus Ducla and Bonnet, which have the mineral character that Sancerre is getting away from.
• New Zealand: Sauvignon blanc doesn’t get better than this, both in quality and price. The best wines – Kim Crawford, Whitehaven, Villa Maria, Nobilio, and Spy Valley – have the region’s distinctive grapefruit flavor, but in balance. I especially like the $16 Spy Valley and the $12 wines from Villa Maria and Nobilio.
• California: California shouldn’t be cold enough to make great sauvignon blanc, but there are dozens of excellent producers, including Benziger, Kenwood, Geyser Peak, and Jewel at around $10 and Cakebread, Duckhorn, St. Supery and Chalk Hill up to $30. California sauvignon blancs have more tropical fruit, like lime and pineapple, and what is described as grassiness (difficult to explain, but recognizable when you smell it).
• Chile: Not always for the faint of heart – can be like New Zealand without the balance. That said, there’s nothing wrong with the wine, and most of the labels we see, like Veramonte and Los Vascos, are $10.
• South Africa: People who are supposed to know about these things say this will be the next great sauvignon blanc producer. I’ve had decent wines, more French in style, from Robertson ($10) and Republic of Sauvignon Blanc ($16).