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Take a Walk on the Wild Side - Sauvignon Blanc, the "Sauvage" Grape

Take a Walk on the Wild Side - Sauvignon Blanc, the "Sauvage" Grape
Take a Walk on the Wild Side - Sauvignon Blanc, the "Sauvage" Grape
If you’re a fan of crisp, dry white wines, chances are that you’ve sipped a glass or two of Sauvignon Blanc. “Sauvignon Blanc is my go-to white wine, especially during the summertime,” says Nicole Dorignac, co-owner of Dorginac’s Food Center. “The wines tend to be light and refreshing with lively acidity, which makes them perfect for porch sipping, picnics and pool parties,” she adds.

Today, this noble grape is one of the most consumed varietals in the United States, but that was not always the case. In the 1960s, it was Robert Mondavi who led the charge in changing the perception of Sauvignon Blanc (at that time, American-made Sauvignon Blanc was sweet and not very enjoyable) and helped to popularize Sauvignon Blanc when he coined the name Fumé Blanc. Mondavi was passionate about French varietals, so he drew inspiration from the Loire Valley in France, where Sauvignon Blanc wines where dry and crisp with firm acidity. The name Fumé Blanc (fumé means “smoky” in French, a quality that Mondavi found in the varietal) came from Pouilly-Fumé, a revered 100% Sauvignon Blanc wine made in the Loire Valley.

Like many grape varietals, the exact origin is not truly known. Sauvignon Blanc appears to be indigenous to either Bordeaux in southwest France or in the Loire Valley in central France. It is commonly believed that the grape’s name is derived from the term sauvage, the French word for “wild” because it grew like weeds, and blanc meaning “white.” The varietal was cultivated in the Sancerre region of the Loire Valley, where it truly found its place in the wine world. To be labeled as Sancerre, the wine must be 100% Sauvignon Blanc and come from that particular appellation. While there are red and rosé wines produced in Sancerre, it is the flinty, crisp white wine that reigns supreme. Fun fact: Sauvignon Blanc was crossed with Cabernet Franc to create the noble Cabernet Sauvignon grape!

Today, Sauvignon Blanc is planted worldwide, most notably in New Zealand, the United States, Chile and Australia, as well as Bordeaux and Loire Valley. And, like other terroir-driven varietals, distinct differences can be found from region to region, as the grape truly reflects the area from which it comes. “Sauvignon Blanc characteristics definitely vary depending upon where they are made. The majority are similar stylistically—light to medium bodied, dry and crisp, with lively acidity—but those from New Zealand tend to be more herbaceous, with green bell pepper or freshly cut grass qualities combined with aromas and flavors of grapefruit and tropical fruits,” explains Nicole. “Those from the Loire Valley are typically earthier with flinty, stone-like, minerally, smoky expressions and notes of green apple and citrus fruits,” she adds. Sauvignon Blanc made in California tend to be a bit riper, fuller-bodied and fruit-forward, with flavors of lime zest, melon, grapefruit, passion fruit, green apple and even floral notes. Additionally, many Sauvignon Blanc wines are aged in stainless steel tanks, rather than oak barrels, making them lighter and crisper than most Chardonnay.

“No matter which style you prefer, Sauvignon Blanc is a great choice to serve at parties or events because most white wine drinkers enjoy them. Plus, overall they are quite affordable and they are very food friendly wines,” explains Nicole. Sauvignon Blanc and goat cheese have a natural affinity for one other, but it also pairs well with gouda, burrata, gruyere and feta. “When pairing food with Sauvignon Blanc, there are many great options like simple grilled or roasted chicken and turkey, seafood especially oysters, smoked salmon, lobster, grilled shrimp and crab, roasted pork tenderloin, flavorful salads, fresh vegetables like broccoli, asparagus and Brussels spouts, and herb-based sauces like pesto and chimichurri,” says Nicole.

The chameleon grape is even capable of producing luscious, delicious dessert wines, including the esteemed Sauterne from Bordeaux. These super-concentrated, sweet wines are a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle and exhibit intense notes of honey, dried fruits like mango, apricot and figs, and warm spices including cinnamon and nutmeg. Sauternes are quite revered by wine enthusiasts and collectors and can fetch a very hefty price, some selling for thousands of dollars! If you have the opportunity to sip a glass of Sauterne, enjoy it with Roquefort, foie gras, cheesecake, fresh fruit tarts or a simple bowl of strawberries with cream.

According to Nicole, another favorable attribute of Sauvignon Blanc is that it won’t break the bank. “While some Sancerre and California selections can go for $40 to $50, most are under $30 a bottle, so they are a good option for a dinner party or casual entertaining. Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand and Chile are even more affordable with bottles typically ranging from $10 to $20,” says Nicole.

Respected by wine novices and experts alike, Sauvignon Blanc is currently in vogue, but at the same time remains very much a classic. So this summer, when you’re relaxing poolside or chilling at the beach, reach for a bottle of refreshing Sauvignon Blanc … You just may discover that this “wild white” is totally your style.

Pooch & Sauvignon Blanc Pairings

Can your choice of pup be an indicator of your wine style? Stranger things have happened! Our wine expert has sniffed out various Sauvignon Blanc styles and paired them with particular breeds. Fetch a bottle, gather your human pack and sip away.

French Sauvignon Blanc: Minerally, complex, refined, smoky, flinty, vibrant

Pooch Pairings:
German Pinscher: Intelligent, vivacious, sleek, alert, energetic, noble, robust, elegant

Toy Poodle: Intelligent, agile, versatile, alert, eager to please, outgoing, sprightly

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc: Lively, peppery, tangy, grassy, citrusy, lush, concentrated

Pooch Pairings:
Boston Terrier: Lively, sporty, compact, bright, kind, affable, affectionate

Irish Terrier: Bold, dashing, sturdy, graceful, vibrant, alert, adaptable, spirited

California Sauvignon Blanc: Dry, zesty, fruity, balanced, flavorful, approachable, bright

Pooch Pairings:
American Bulldog: Friendly, agile, well-balanced, confident, upbeat, outgoing, playful

Bichon Frise: Peppy, playful, charming, intelligent, sturdy, alert, gracious, gentle

Dorignac’s Recommends:
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc ($32.99)
Domaine de la Villaudiere Charme de Loire ($14.99)
Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc ($10.00)
Justin Sauvignon Blanc ($14.99)
Raphael Midoir Sancerre ($32.99)
Tagged in Pups Uncorked in our Summer 2022 issue