Sauvignon blanc’s universal popularity is a testament to its unique and changeable taste. Grown widely in both the Old World and New World, each region offers up a distinct and delicious take on this most versatile of varieties.

A green-skinned grape that has become one of the most widely distributed in the world, is any summer gathering in Australia complete without a bottle of sauvignon blanc? With a natural crispness and freshness that appeals to the masses, it is now comfortably the most popular white wine consumed in Australia.

But what should a budding oenophile know about this variety over and above its famed drinkability?

From wild beginnings

The grape’s name offers hints to its past; its etymology is most likely from the French sauvage (''wild'') and blanc (''white''). It is most likely a grape indigenous to the southwest of France, although there have been suggestions that it is actually a descendent of the Savagnin grape (although definitive DNA evidence is still lacking).

Either way, Bordeaux and the Loire Valley appear to be where sauvignon blanc first grew. These regions remained the premier producers of the wine for centuries, until things began to change in the late 1800s. It was at this time that vines were first exported to the New World. California was its first port of call, with initial cuttings being planted in the 1880s. Small plots sprung up in Argentina and Chile thereafter, but with the public palate not yet set on white wines, the grape didn’t explode into popularity until much later.

Taking Australia by storm

The grape was introduced into New Zealand in the 1970s, and it thrived. Within a few short years New Zealand sauvignon blancs had made a name for themselves internationally, their famous tropical and fruity flavours offering a truly intriguing change from the traditional styles of the Old World. 

Seeing this trans-Tasman success, Australian wineries – predominantly in the Adelaide Hills and Margaret River – began to see the terrific export opportunity that unique sauvignon blanc offered. Up until then chardonnay was seen as almost untouchable in terms of Australian whites, capturing the overwhelming majority of the market. But bit by bit, the fresh and fruity taste of sauvignon blanc began to eat into this dominance. 

Today sauvignon blanc is Australia’s highest-selling white wine, taking the title that chardonnay had held for decades. And through its use in SSB (semillon sauvignon blanc) blends, its popularity and importance shows no sign of receding.

 “Today sauvignon blanc is Australia’s highest selling white wine, taking the title that chardonnay had held for decades. And through its use in SSB (semillon sauvignon blanc) blends, its popularity and importance shows no sign of receding.”

 A chameleon on the palate

Sauvignon blanc’s most unique characteristic is its inherent flexibility. Its flavours are truly dynamic, and are defined by both the soil in which it’s planted and the climate in which it grows. It’s thanks to this fact that each sauvignon blanc-growing region of the world offers its own unique taste, with the breadth of flavour from region to region as enjoyable as it is distinct. 

As a broad generalisation, all sauvignon blancs will feature relatively high acidity, and will be notably dry. The lack of sweetness, however, is counterbalanced by a wealth of fruit flavours ranging from lime and green apple through to passionfruit and peach. 

But sauvignon blanc’s unique taste can be largely put down to the wealth of green herbal notes present. Depending on its origin you can expect sauvignon blanc to deliver grass, green capsicum, jalapeno, lemongrass and celery. 

You’ll notice a theme to the herbal flavours mentioned above, and this offers a hint as to the perfect food pairing for sauvignon blanc. The key is to go green. Salads, fruits, or fresh foods that feature generous helpings of rosemary, basil, mint or coriander will match the wine wonderfully.

The finest drops

Treat your tastebuds to a sauvignon blanc world tour, as the variety of this varietal is something to behold. 

Begin with our own backyard by sampling an Adelaide Hills Shaw and Smith or an award winning Flowstone from Margaret River. Follow this with a fruity and tropical drop from New Zealand’s famed Marlborough region – Squealing Pig offers incredible quality at an equally incredible price.  

Old World wines serve to give you a taste of the past, with many wineries’ sauvignon blanc processes untouched for centuries. Try a French Sancerre or an Italian Cantina Terlano Quarz.

Sauvignon Blanc Titbits

1. Sauvignon blanc, in partnership with cabernet franc, gave birth to cabernet sauvignon in the 18th century.

2. Sauvignon blanc is comfortably the most planted grape variety in New Zealand, taking up more than 6 times the area of the next most popular vine (chardonnay).

3. Production of sauvignon blanc in Australia has increased more than 40-fold in the last quarter century, and plantings are still increasing five times quicker than the average of other white varieties.

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