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Cat’s urine or quaffing delight – the wine that divides the world

Asking drinkers’ opinions on a foundation grape like Sauvignon Blanc (SB) is like asking State of Origin fans to clap when the opposition scores a try. It polarizes a room.

Aromatic, sharp, crisp and zesty are some of the more measured descriptions it attracts. Less flattering, some have characterized it as like “feline urine passing through a Juniper bush”.

There is no doubt it’s flavor is pronounced. Aromas of the green spectrum abound, such as grass, gooseberries and nettles. Sometimes it has passion fruit and lychee notes, with a hint of flintiness or minerality (wine nerds note: this is caused by methoxypyrazines and thiols present in the wine).

Sauvignon Blanc probably originated in the Loire Valley of France, rather than Bordeaux, as previously thought.

DNA studies show that it is the progeny of Savagnin, a wild type of vine with a long history, and its ancestry probably includes Pinot. In turn it, along with Cabernet Franc, is a parent of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Sauvignon Blanc is a widely planted variety found all around the world, though it appreciates cooler climates. It is the third-most planted white in France, after Ugni Blanc and Chardonnay. The Loire Valley is its home, with Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume being regions of significance. If the wine is exposed to oak, it is termed Fume Blanc – a term coined in California. In Bordeaux, it is often blended with a close relation, Semillon.

I’ve also heard it referred to as the accountant’s wine, the reason being it is picked, quickly fermented in stainless steel, has no oak exposure and can be bottled early and released within four to six months of picking. Hence, getting the cash flow started.

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc remains the darling of whites in the New World of wine. Strong passion fruit and tropical aromas are evident, with tight bucket loads of acid. It remains the country’s chief wine export, making up 70 per cent of all varieties sold by New Zealand on international markets.

All regions of New Zealand except around Auckland are renowned for producing SB – the sole exception being Auckland’s Kumea Estate. Marlborough is the most prolific area, with multiple recognized sub-regions.

Australia produces more herbal, grassy styles of SB, though Tasmanian SBs understandably produce aromas similar to those in NZ vintages. The Adelaide hills, Western Australia, Coonawarra and the Limestone Coast are all major SB producing areas, and it finds its way into the Semillon blends that are prolific in Western Australia.

Chile produces more earthy SB wines. It is believed that a lot of these wines are actually descended from Sauvignonasse grapes – the genetic bastardry rolls on.  South Africa’s SBs are somewhat grassy and tropical.  California, Oregon and even Mexico make some SB. Russia, Ukraine and Romania have some plantings. Austria and Switzerland also grow SB.

Wines Tasted

Neederberg Winemakers Reserve 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, South Africa – the colour is light lime. The nose exhibits zesty lime and green pea fragrances, with floral herbal notes. Palate is juicy and forward with subtle acidity. Overall, enjoyable and sitting somewhere between Australian and NZ styles.

Cono Sur Especial 2012 Valle de Casablanca Sauvignon Blanc, Chile – a light yellow colour. The nose is a complex blend of gooseberries, nasturtiums, florals and hints of ginger. The palate has generous fruit and mild acidity with a funky, earthy taste. Very pleasant but idiosyncratic.

Middle Earth Nelson 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand – a slightly deeper green/yellow colour. The nose has classic New Zealand gooseberry and passion fruit aromas, with flinty minerality. The palate has generous fruit with acids complimenting the overall mouth feel. Moderate sweetness and structure make this wine a little more complex than Marlborough SBs.

Shaw and Smith Adelaide Hills 2013 – pale green in colour, with grassy floral notes on the nose. The wine maker tells me there is a hint of grapefruit present. Certainly, some passionfruit aromas are present. This is bone dry on the palate, with lip-smacking crispness. It is a very good representive of what Australian SB is like.

Cloudy Bay Te Koko 2010 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc – a deep yellow colour, with a tinge of green. There are complex lemon herbal aromas with mandarin and spices like ginger. On the palate it is a full, rich wine with subdued acidity. Overall, a lush complex version of a NZ SB. This wine is made with wild yeast ferment and some lees contact. Some bottle age adds to the complexity. My personal favorite of the SBs.