Sauvignon Blanc, Undercover in the Loire
Why does Sauvignon Blanc enjoys such popularity? The answer lies in two words: instant gratification. When plans go al fresco or life is a little too al dente, sprightly Sauvignon Blanc helps lift the spirits. Served chilled, always bone dry, its characteristic mouth-watering lemony acidity and crunchy green apple or gooseberry flavour is an excellent palate preparer for a meal or as an effective cleansing counter to oily and creamy dishes, most especially goat’s cheese and saucy shell fish.
Around 96% of the wine we purchase in Ireland is consumed within twenty-four hours and the majority of that – within the first four hours. We want it and we want it now. Sauvignon Blanc is the wine of our time. It is perfect for the impatient because it is a wine that matures quickly and the retarding evolution for greater complexity that occurs with oak aging is rarely ever applied. Sauvignon Blanc grapes ripen early compared to Riesling and Chenin Blanc. The general truism is that the quicker the grapes ripen on the vine, the faster the wines mature in the bottle (excluding any wines fermented or aged in new oak barrels). Typically, its herbaceous, pungent aromas and sappy, green flavours are usually best enjoyed within a few of years of the vintage harvest year on the label.
Some of the most famous and longest established examples of Sauvignon Blanc do not even mention the grape’s name on the label. Historically, European classifications named a wine after a vineyard, a village or the region rather than the grape variety itself. The grape varietal was regarded as an important ingredient but not necessarily the most important ingredient in a wine when combined with local environment and climate (terroir) and traditional winemaking practices.
The Loire’s Strengths for Sauvignon Blanc Wines
France’s longest river, the Loire at just over 1,000 km, captures the essence of Sauvignon Blanc as it flows by the pretty riverside villages of Sancerre and Pouilly-sur-Loire. Both face each other from opposite banks of the river, west and east respectively. The location of these villages was once the floor of an ancient sea and the vineyards’ soil contains the fossils of their original marine life.
The Loire rises in France’s Massif Central, flows northwards past Sancerre and Pouilly-sur-Loire, then bends sharply to the left and travels westwards through the sub-regions Touraine and Anjou-Saumur where Chenin Blanc takes the white wine crown and finally enters the Atlantic at Nantes, Muscadet country.
The wines from Pouilly-sur-Loire are named Pouilly-Fumé. They acquire the appendix, Fumé, meaning “smoky” from the high proportion of flint or silex in the limestone believed to give a gun-flint, smoky character shot through the wine’s aromas and flavours.
For many, the diamond-dry white wine from the chalk and stony vineyard slopes surrounding the pretty hill-top village of Sancerre (popular with honeymooners) makes another one of the finest expressions of Sauvignon Blanc in France. Perched overlooking the River Loire, rich in prehistoric marine fossils, the vineyards’ silex soil’s mixture of clay and flint also gives Sancerre’s white wines their distinct gun-smoke and flinty character.
These wines have been justifiably fashionable for several decades for their food-friendly and stark purity of fragrant elderflower, tangy lemony fruit and salty mineral character.
Red Alert: a little red and rosé Sancerre is made from Pinot Noir and both go well with fresh salmon and tuna. Most Sancerres, of all colours, are best enjoyed when at their most youthful, fresh and fragrant.
While the neighbouring sub-region’s appellation of Sauvignon de Touraine near the Roman town of Tours is less famous for Sauvignon Blanc, playing bridesmaid to Chenin Blanc’s Vouvray, they are similar in style but lighter in concentration and usually at lower prices because of its less familiar name.
Sauvignon Blanc, a wine by any other name……
12.5% ABV – €16 Available in Dublin at The Corkscrew, Chatham Street and Fresh Supermarkets citywide. JJ O’Driscoll, Ballinlough and Ardkeen Super Stores, Waterford.
Youthful fragrance of elderflowers, nettles and bruised basil leaves. Simple and honest orchard flavours of green apples and ripe pears. Light-bodied alcohol and ends with a clean and sappy finish.
Food friend: chill with a pizza topped with goats’ cheese, pesto and spinach.
12.5% ABV – €18.99 at SuperValu nationwide
Classic flinty and mineral aromas. Deliciously salty mineral palate of pure terroir.
Lean-bodied, lively acidity and a refreshing lemony finish.
Food friend: experiment with blackened chicken in Cajun spices.
13% ABV – €19.90 at winesoftheworld.ie
Delicate herbal and grassy scents that don’t prepare the palate for the citrus fest ambush of zesty lemons with a salty finish.
Food friend: enjoy with a risotto verde – peas, asparagus, spinach and parsley.
12.5% ABV – €21.99 by J&C Kenny at No 21 Off-licences: Listowel, Ballincollig, Blarney, Charleville, Carrick-on-Suir, The Glen Waterford, Lismore Park Waterford, 21 Coburg Street Cork, Middleton and Ballunacurra. Also, Cappagh Stores, Knocknacarra, Galway; Shannon Knights, Shannon Town Centre and Ardkeen Quality Foodstore, Waterford
Pretty perfume of elderflowers and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Light and elegant with the acidity beautifully integrated into the green apple and gooseberry flavours with a dry chalky and lemon zesty finish.
Food friend: match with a cauldron of garlicky mussels in a white wine and cream broth.
13% ABV – €25.00 at Marks & Spencer nationwide
Muted aromas but an intense ripple of flavours over the taste buds that carry pure terroir minerality – crushed oyster shell and like Dame Maggie Smith, attractively austere.
Food friend: serve with sole in a white wine sauce with halved and skinned green grapes.
13.5% ABV – €32 at in Dublin at The Corkscrew, Chatham Street; Deveney’s, Dundrum; Cork’s, Terenure; Donnybrook Fair; Fresh Supermarkets; McHugh’s, Kilbarrack; On The Grapevine, Dalkey; Redmond’s, Ranelagh; Rowan’s, Rathfarnham; Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown; Vintry, Rathgar; Sweeney’s, Glasnevin and Liston’s, Camden Street. The Parting Glass, Enniskerry; La Touche Wines 4U, Greystones; Bradley’s Food Market, Cork; Cashel Wine Cellar and SuperValu nationwide
Subtle mineral aromas. Deep layers of salty minerality, green apple skins and grapefruit peel unified by a common vein of elegance.
Food friend: try with a carpaccio of salmon with lime and capers.
Liam Campbell is one of Ireland’s most experienced wine writers. His work has been featured in the pages of numerous publications, most recently as the Wine & Drinks Editor for The Irish Independent, as well as in Irish Homes, Easy Food and The Dubliner magazines.
Besides writing, his involvement in the world of wine goes deeper: he’s an approved WSET educator and holder of a WSET Diploma, Diploma in Craft Beer & Cider, and he has worked as judge in international wine competitions and as a wine consultant.