Guide to Sauvignon Blanc Wine

Blanc Wine Sauvignon blanc isn’t like any other type of white wine — and it doesn’t want to be. Sharp, crisp, acidic and dry, sauvignon blanc presents a distinct palate and tasting experience for all who try a glass. The grape is considered a noble varietal, meaning it’s internationally recognized as a top-quality grape type capable of large-scale cultivation yet still expressing its unique terroir.

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Sauvignon blanc itself means “wild white,” nodding to its lush, dense vine canopies and early ripening. The green-skinned varietal is now grown worldwide in a variety of cool and moderate climates, pairs well with dozens of foods and remains a bestseller on the consumer wine market.

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Sauvignon Blanc Pronunciation

Wondering how to pronounce sauvignon blanc? You’re not alone.

Sauvignon blanc is pronounced as “sah-veen-yohn-blahnk.” Drop the hard “k” when trying to be fancy and say it like the French, or stick with the well-accepted English phonetics. Now, next time you’re out to eat, you can order a glass of sauvignon blanc without fear!

History of Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon blanc grapes are said to have originated somewhere in the Loire Valley and Bordeaux regions of France.

Both provinces carry a storied wine history and are the homes of many other noble varietals, including the rhyming cabernet franc. In fact, the regional origins of these two wines — sauvignon blanc and cabernet franc — are so intertwined, they’re actually the parent varietals of the world’s most popular red wine, cabernet sauvignon.

Sauvignon blanc was a well-kept French secret until the late 19th-century when select vine cuttings were transplanted to northern California by experimental winegrowers. Their choice to use cuttings from some of Bordeaux’s most reputable vineyards paid off. The thin-skinned grape prefers temperate weather, which prolongs bud development but ripes its fruits quickly. The result is sauvignon blanc’s signature early maturation.

How Is Sauvignon Blanc Made?

Sauvignon blanc vines prefer sunny but moderate weather, letting their buds blossom late yet their fruits ripen early. This late-blossoming, early ripening balance is a hallmark of sauvignon blanc and one of the signature features winemakers master to produce this varietal across environments. Lucky for growers, sauvignon blanc grapes grow bountifully, producing generous — and sometimes overly dense — yields.

Regions most known for producing sauvignon blanc include:

  • Bordeaux
  • New Zealand
  • Northern California
  • Australia
  • South Africa
  • Chile
  • North Italy

After its September harvest, sauvignon blanc ferments in stainless steel tanks. The vast majority of this varietal will undergo stainless steel vat fermentation at “slow and low” temperatures between 42° to 50° F, preserving its sharp acidity while coaxing distinct fruit flavors. The slow-and-low method also allows sauvignon blanc’s chemical pyrazine compounds to flourish, producing this white wine’s unique herby, green characteristics.

In total, sauvignon blanc’s total harvesting, fermentation, filtering and bottling process can occur in as few as three to four months. The wine does well consumed young and doesn’t require much additional fermentation or racking. High-quality sauvignon blanc properly cellared can remain crisp and vibrant for years. However, it is still generally recommended to drink sauvignon blanc fresh to capture its full, bright acidity and earthy palate.

Characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon blanc’s vineyards span countries and climates. Its widespread cultivation means the white wine varietal carries distinct qualities depending on where it comes from — in taste and smell but also in subtler traits like acidity, mouthfeel and finish.

One description is guaranteed — sauvignon blanc wine is dry and zesty, with strong aromatic notes of flowers and vegetables. Beyond that, the fun begins.

1. Growing Conditions

Sauvignon blanc grapes grow best in sunny but temperate climates. Overexposure to heat muddles the grape’s intense acidity while gentle, frequent sunlight develops its vegetal and light fruit flavors. The varietal benefits most from cool, even brisk, nights and requires a long dormant or vegetative state between growing seasons, which can help naturally tame its substantial canopy growth.

That said, sauvignon blanc is a thin-skinned grape. This makes it susceptible to several bud and vine-rot conditions, which winemakers combat with frequent leaf and vine trimmings to nurture proper yield control.

Other ideal growing conditions for the sauvignon blanc grape include:

  • Soil: Sauvignon blanc grows well in sandy, gravelly and clay-composed soils alike with various mineral compositions. The flavors lent from its soil type will affect the final flavors of a bottle of sauvignon blanc. In general, the chalkier the soil, the more mineral notes sauvignon blanc contains, while softer sand produces herb notes and denser, clay-forward soil will coax stronger fruits.
  • Spacing: Given its tendency to grow thick, dense canopies, sauvignon blanc vines are planted no less than 6 feet apart.
  • Water: Sauvignon blanc grapes require moderate-to-high water demand, especially in late summer, when vine canopies are at their thickest.

2. Body

Body refers to the way a wine feels in your mouth, such as its weight and texture. For that reason, you’ll often hear body discussed using the word “mouthfeel.”

Sauvignon blanc is generally a medium-bodied white wine. Sips will be flavorful and zippy but not heavy, with common mouthfeel descriptors like zesty and crisp. Its body is approachable for a wide variety of preferences. It is particularly great to pair with meals, as its medium body and average ABV — around 12.5 to 14% — stand up to diverse foods without growing overpowering.

3. Acidity

Sauvignon blanc is a high-acidity wine. Its high acidity gives the varietal a notably refreshing quality, with bright, loud flavors and aromas allowed to express in tart pops.

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However, it’s important to remember acid does not make wine taste sour. Many compare the brightness of sauvignon blanc’s acidity to taking a bite out of a fresh, green granny smith apple, with flavor receptors on the sides and tip of your tongue responding for that lively tasting experience.

High acidity complements the drying sensation that occurs when drinking a typical glass of sauvignon blanc. As a rule of thumb, white wines will generally express more acidity than red wines, with a few exceptions, such as Sangiovese and Barbera d’Asti.

4. Aromas

Sauvignon blanc is a highly aromatic white wine. Among its many signature smells, a glass of sauvignon blanc will carry notes of:

  • Lime
  • Fresh-cut grass
  • Chalk
  • Green bell peppers
  • Jalapeno
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemongrass
  • Wet stone
  • Flint

These common sauvignon blanc aromas lean on the earthy and herbaceous side. However, warm-climate sauvignon blanc — such as those from the Adelaide Hills of Australia — produce richer tropical fruit aromas suiting a fruiter overall profile.

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5. Flavors

Sauvignon blanc provides a complex array of earthy, mineral and fruit flavors rounded by a lean, dry finish.

Green or herbaceous flavors will be the most pronounced when drinking sauvignon blanc, represented in the varietal’s iconic bell pepper and freshly cut grass notes rounded by light citrus. The warmer the climate and more clay-like the soil sauvignon blanc grapes grew in, the fruiter its tastes.

The most common flavors associated with sauvignon blanc include:

  • Primary earthy flavors: Lawn cuttings, basil, lemongrass, tarragon, celery
  • Primary fruit flavors: Lime, bell peppers, green apple, gooseberry, kiwi, passion fruit
  • Primary mineral flavors: Flint, chalk, wet concrete