|Sauvalicious. Sort of.|
Sauvignon Blanc is dead. Long live Sauvignon Blanc!
(A version of this article appeared in the November edition of LattéLife magazine. It’s written for a much different audience than this blog but I think it’s worth publishing regardless. You be the judge)
After five years of utter domination, it seems the ‘Savalanche’ has peaked.
What’s the Savalanche you say? That’s the label given to the recent meteoric rise of Sauvignon Blanc in Australia. A meteoric rise that has seen Sauv Blanc consumption grow at a rate of up to 42% year-on-year, with the variety now claiming the title as Australia’s favourite white wine (usurping Chardonnay in the process).
Yet all that is changing. Sauvignon Blanc may still be our most enjoyed white, but over the last year the growth has slowed to (just!) 10%, with other varieties such as Pinot Gris now creeping up to take the mantle.
As to why the variety is losing favour (of sorts) it’s perhaps a whole range of factors: Drinking fashion, a flood of average quality Sauvignon Blancs that have swamped the market, or even blame it on the fact that the Kiwis – who grow more Sauvignon Blanc than anyone else – took the World Cup from us (or some people might. Tenuous I know but rugby fans would take it very seriously. Maybe).
The real story however is that Sauvignon Blanc has become boring. Or at least the mainstream style of Sauvignon Blanc that we find on liquor store shelves has become boring, with a certain homogeneity now destroying the variety (or at least I think so). A homogeneity that has seen grapes picked earlier, fermented quicker and bottled with more residual sugar, all in the attempt to make the wines cheaper and more ‘commercially attractive’ (read sweet and inoffensive).
A recent trip to New Zealand however reminded that beyond these ‘typical’ Sauvignon Blancs there lies a whole world of Sauvignon fun. A world where ‘Savvy’ can be crafted into richly textured, layered wines that show complexity and power and interest. The sort of wines that will live and grow with cellaring, evolving nicely in the bottle, instead of looking good for 12 months and then fading away (like most do). Wines that even grumpy wine writers (like me) find interesting.
For a perfect example of what can be done with the variety look only at the Dog Point Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc, a Kiwi Savvy produced by Ivan Sutherland and James Healey, themselves some of the original staff at Cloudy Bay.
What makes this wine appealing is that it is a Sauvignon Blanc treated with the love it deserves in the vineyard (cropped low, farmed organically, hand pruned and hand picked) and then given a whole lot more work in the winery (wild ferments, oak maturation, bottle ageing etc) to produce a complex and intriguing wine that is proudly different to typical Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs and, in my opinion, all the better for it (cellar worthy too. The current vintage is a 2010 and it’s still a year or so off its best. The 2006 vintage is drinking rather well right now).
Locally you can see examples of this Sauvignon stylistic evolution too. Look at the Mitchell Harris Sauvignon Blanc Fumé for example, a particularly sexy, textural Sauv Blanc produced by new gun winemaker John Harris from premium Pyrenees fruit. It’s a Sauvignon Blanc that carries none of the cat wee and gooseberry laden ‘aromatics first, texture last’ failings of so many boring Sauvs and instead swaps it for crunchy herbs and creamy complexity.
Finally, it would be remiss to not mention Sancerre when talking about interesting Sauvignon Blanc, as this French winemaking region is considered to be the home of the grape. Look for example at the enthralling wines of Domaine Pascal Cotat, Domaine Riffault or Domaine Daniel Chotard to taste some of the new breed of wonderful Sauvignon Blanc based wines.
All I am saying, is give (interesting) Sauvignon Blanc a chance!