Wine of the month: Sauvignon Blanc

Posted on: 01 October 2010 by Mark O'haire

Sauvignon Blanc is one of the most recognised and popular white grape varieties on the planet and can be found in the most far-flung corners of the wine world.

I’ve tasted Sauvignon Blanc from places as far apart as Germany, Italy, Chile and New Zealand. It has to be said the German examples were somewhat forgettable, but I find the Chilean Sauvignon Blanc generally very dependable as are the very popular wines coming from Marlborough in New Zealand.

Sauvignon Blanc is also an important constituent with Semillon in white Bordeaux but traditionally its heartland is the Loire Valley where it is the grape variety that makes Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé. In my opinion Sauvignon Blanc that is grown in cooler, but not cold climates tends to be more expressive and complex. The grapes ripen more slowly there and that is a good thing as the grape gets the time to become fully ripe, showing its true colours without piling on the alcohol.

As far as recognition goes it is both the Sancerre style; bone dry, fresh and mineral with a distinct herbaceous and slightly smoky character and the much riper Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, showing gooseberry, citrus and passion fruit flavours with the typical green pepper and asparagus notes that stand out.

I am probably not the world’s biggest Sauvignon Blanc fan as I often find it lacks the interest and complexity to get me really excited, but there are exceptions. And this week I came across one of the best examples I have tasted in a long time. And it was neither Sancerre, nor Marlborough but hailed from Elgin in South Africa.

IonaSB09Iona the wine in question is a winery owned by Andrew Gunn since the mid-90’s. Andrew, a very tall man who can trace his roots to Scotland, was looking for a change from his career as a medical engineer and found an old apple farm in Elgin. He realised quickly that the old apple orchard wasn’t going to sustain him and his family so he decided to plant vines instead.

Having travelled extensively through the South African wine regions of the day, Andrew felt the slightly cooler climate of Elgin at an altitude of 450 metres was perfect for growing grapes and Sauvignon Blanc in particular. Around 70% of his production is made up of the grape, which achieves a perfect balance of ripeness and alcohol due to the long ripening season.

Andrew calls this optimum physiological ripeness, and the balance this creates is what this wine is all about. It is closer in style to the mineral Sancerre than the abundance of tropical fruit flavours you might expect from Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Mineral is a slightly woolly term but you get what I mean when you taste this. It is the aroma you get from soil, freshly rained on stones or even salt. The flinty character in Sauvignon Blanc is often mentioned as a mineral character. Together with the fairly brisk acidity it gives a distinctive and dry feel to the palate which is refreshing and lively at the same time as showing great purity of flavour.

Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2009

  • Elgin, South Africa
  • Waitrose - £9.49

So here we go with our mineral, flinty nose that has a floral character and slight herbaceousness along the Sancerre style. And then the ripe fruit takes over. Not tropical but more zesty citrus fruit, gooseberry and stonefruit characters.

The wine is generously mouthfilling with a lively, dry and pure finish. This superbly balanced wine was a joy to taste on its own but when it was paired with a Ballotine of Scottish Salmon with cucumber, horseradish crème and a beetroot reduction it really came to life.

I’m sure a pairing with a goat’s cheese tartlet would be equally good but make it something creamy as it will find a perfect balance with the dry and zesty character of the wine.

Wine selected by Pieter Rosenthal at www.lovethatwine.co.uk.

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