Jane Parkinson on a humble French grape that has conquered the world
Sauvignon blanc has single-handedly changed our nation’s attitude to dry white wine, to the point at which this humble little French grape is now just as popular on the high street as it is on restaurant wine lists. It’s loved by everyone, everywhere. And now that it’s no longer invisible—as it was in the days when people tended to drink it unknowingly, hidden as it was behind labels saying sancerre, pouilly-fumé or Bordeaux blanc—its popularity has done nothing but skyrocket.
This is of course thanks to New Zealand, a country that blew this grape’s cover by doing the opposite of its French counterparts and boldly slapping the words ‘sauvignon blanc’ across the front of each bottle. Suddenly not only did everyone know this grape name but they knew that it was responsible for delivering some of the most vibrant, zesty, refreshing and fruity dry whites out there.
France and New Zealand, as good as they are, by no means have a monopoly on good sauvignon blanc, though. It’s now prolific in most wine-producing countries and especially thrives where the climate is that little bit cooler.
Aromatic complexity, crunchy zestiness
Cue South Australia’s Adelaide Hills wine region, about 20 miles east of the city. Here, altitude is everything because, with vineyards ranging from about 400 to 650 metres above sea level in height, it can truthfully claim to have that all-important cool climate status. This, together with its consistently dry weather, creates the perfect conditions for aromatic grapes like sauvignon blanc, which love to mature at a slow and steady rate to really develop, hone and promote their aromatic complexity as well as their crunchy zestiness in the mouth.
The latter characteristic is what makes this grape a hands-down no-brainer with new season greens, thanks to that one-on-one match of grassy crunchiness. Then there’s the zesty sourness of sorrel, which fares best with sweet wines or with a punchy dry white that’s brightly flavoured.
And as if that wasn’t enough, sauvignon blanc in most guises is also a seamless match with goat’s cheese for textural reasons, as the crunch of the wine cuts through the dense chalkiness of this particular cheese. This goes so much further than being a good match—it’s a seamless, scintillating, melt-in-the-mouth pairing.
Sauvignon Blanc, Shaw + Smith, Adelaide Hills, Australia, 2018
Owned by two hugely respected figureheads of the modern Australian wine scene, Michael Hill Smith and Martin Shaw, this wine is fermented in stainless steel rather than wood to ensure the grape’s aromatic complexity and freshness is preserved to the very last. Juicy yet zesty and screaming of summer, this sauvignon blanc delivers just as much sour grapefruit zip and zing as it does fresh pea crispness.
The perfect pairing for Kathy Slack’s broad bean & broad bean tip salad with goat’s cheese & sorrel dressing.