Sauvignon Blanc

Tasting Sauvignon Blanc

I hate Sauvignon Blanc. I’ve always hated Sauvignon Blanc. I didn’t like the taste and usually found that it was often served poorly as well…too cold…small glass…the litany goes on. There really wasn’t anything about Sauvignon Blanc that I liked. However, the sharper of you readers may have noticed the past tense in those last two sentences. I now have a new reason to hate Sauvignon Blanc because I’ve kind of grown to like it…or at least some of it, so now it’s turned me into a hypocrite as well. For those of you who have read our posts before, you might remember a blog post called the “Sauvignon Blanc Rant” where I compared it to “grass clippings in water” and called it a “waste of space in the refrigerator”. Given my newfound tolerance…even appreciation for some Sauvignon Blanc, this means I’ll be having a glass with a good portion of poultry, specifically crow.

Sauvignon Blanc is the core white wine grape from the Bordeaux region and has a history dating back hundreds of years in their famous, white Bordeaux blend wines. Along with Cabernet Franc, it’s also the one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon…notice the “Sauvignon” name in common, so at least it had that going for it – the only redeeming trait of a miserable wine (or so we thought).

Last April, Karen and I went on a wine cruise to Bordeaux and one of the wine experiences I was least looking forward to was having Sauvignon Blanc foisted upon me as part of those white Bordeaux wines. Karen shared my dislike. Well…a funny thing happened when we weren’t expecting it. We tried a white Bordeaux with lunch and kind of liked it after the first sip. Well hell…that can’t be right. We hate Sauvignon Blanc and the label said this wine was 90 percent Sauvignon Blanc and 10 percent Semillon, another wine for which I have few kind words. My first thought was that some smart ass must have switched my glass with something that was actually tasty, instead of the ultra-herbaceous, thin wine I was used to. I checked the bottle and sure enough, it was what was in my glass. Hmm…how to explain the difference besides being drunk, hung over or both from drinking so much French wine? Karen and I both commented that there was a roundness of flavor, and a viscosity that was lacking in the new world Sauvignon Blanc that we’ve had. We didn’t know the cause, but we knew that we liked what we had in our glass. Every day, a different white Bordeaux teased our senses with similar structure and complexity but different flavors. Clearly something was different with these wines when compared to the US and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

We remembered that there was one US Sauvignon Blanc based wine that we liked, Westbrook Wine Farm’s “Savvy”, which is primarily Sauvignon Blanc but also has Semillon and Muscadelle, the other allowable white wine grapes in white Bordeaux blends. “Savvy” has a similar flavor and mouth feel to the white Bordeaux wines we tried in France.

On our next trip to Westbrook Wine Farm to try their new Primitivo, we were looking forward to trying the “Savvy” again which is styled after white Bordeaux wines. We wanted to see if our recollections were accurate and if it was reminiscent of the wines that we had in France rather than the thin, single-note Sauvignon Blanc that we’ve had in the US. Not only was the “Savvy” just as we remembered, but we learned a few of the differences in winemaking techniques. First, in addition to Sauvignon Blanc, there is Semillon and Muscadelle in the “Savvy” making it more Bordeaux-like than pure new world Sauvignon Blanc. Not being the sharpest tool in the shed, I was still trying to get my head around how two wine grapes that I don’t care for and another that I have virtually no experience with (and is only used in small amounts) can make such a tasty wine. Ray Krause, the winemaker at Westbrook, likes to impart lots of information about the wine when you are wine tasting. The more you ask, the more he’ll tell. It’s a bit like drinking from a firehose but it was what we needed to get our heads around the Sauvignon Blanc conundrum. We had a couple of first time wine tasters in the group and Ray was happy to educate so we picked up a lot of information. For starters, “Savvy” uses different yeast than many other wines. Ray uses different yeasts for each of his wines but it really registered this time. Different yeasts produce different compounds in the wine. Some produce more ethyl alcohol, some produce more glycerol, and that is one of the keys. Glycerol has a slightly sweet flavor which accounts for what many perceive as residual sugar in wine even though it is completely dry (a dry wine has all of the sugar converted to CO2, alcohol and various other compounds). The yeast that Ray uses produces copious amounts of glycerol compared to most other strains and that is where both the hint of sweetness and the viscosity comes from. There may be a few other elements in his secret sauce but the glycerol was the smoking gun that I had been looking for. The “Savvy” and the good white Bordeaux had the mouthfeel produced by more glycerol in the wine. Most Sauvignon Blanc made in the new world don’t have that characteristic.

Clearly, the more you learn about wine, the more you realize you really don’t know squat which really sucks. If you learn more about a topic, you should become an expert. The more I learn about wine, the more I realize that I am a babe in the woods. If you are like us and consider Sauvignon Blanc repellant (or even worse), try either a white Bordeaux or get hold of Westbrook’s “Savvy” (available only from the winery) and see if you change your opinion. If you like the typical new world style of Sauvignon Blanc, well that’s great for you…just keep it away from Karen and me.