1. Where does Sauvignon Blanc come from originally?

Sauvignon Blanc originates from Western France in the Loire Valley and Bordeaux wine regions.
Its exact origin remains a mystery to this day and is still being investigated but the grape variety may be related to a French grape called Savagnin. What is known, however, is that Sauvignon Blanc was crossed with Cabernet Franc to give birth to Cabernet Sauvignon.

2. Where are the most Sauvignon Blanc vines grown internationally?

Thanks to the popularity of Sauvignon Blanc wines, their sharp and refreshing acidity as well as its natural aromatic intensity, Sauvignon Blanc has been planted rather extensively all over the world. The grape now plays an important part in the winemaking of many major wine-producing countries, from Europe and the Old World to nearly all New World countries. The top 6 countries in the world in terms of the surface dedicated to this variety are France, New Zealand, Chile, South Africa, Australia and Romania. However, there are around another 40 countries which also grow this varietal.

3. How does Sauvignon Blanc plantings compare to other varietals internationally?

Among the top ten grape varieties of the world, there are many so-called “international varieties”. However, some lesser-known varieties also made it into the top ten list:

 

4. What are the synonyms for Sauvignon Blanc?

Sauvignon (AUS, NZL, IT)
Blanc Fumé (ZAF, CHL)
Muscat Sylvaner (DEU, AT)
Fumé Blanc (DEU, AUS, CAN, USA, NZL)
Weisser Sauvignon (MKD, HUN)
Sovinjon Bel (MKD,HUN),
Sauvignon Bianco (MKD, HUN)
Sovinjon Bijeli (BIH)
Sovinjon (BIH)
Muškatni Silvanac (BIH, HRV)
Sauvignon Bijeli (HRV, HUN)
Sauvignon Blanco (CHL)
Fume (CHL)
Muscat Sylvaner (HUN)
Gros Sauvignon (RUS)
Sauvignon Vert (RUS)
Pinot Mestny Bely (RUS)
Sauvignon Verde (ROU)
Zeleni Sauvignon (SVN)
Sauvignonasse (SVN).
Feigentraube (Germany)

5. When were the first Sauvignon Blanc vines planted in South Africa?

The introduction of Sauvignon Blanc to South Africa cannot be precisely dated but it is known that Sauvignon Blanc vines were planted at the highly lauded Groot Constantia estate in the late 1880s.

6. When was the first commercial South African Sauvignon Blanc wine produced?

The first commercial South African Sauvignon Blanc wine was produced by Verdun (now Asara) in 1977, with Backsberg and De Wetshof following suit in 1980.

7. How old are the oldest existing Sauvignon Blanc vines in South Africa?

The oldest existing Sauvignon Blanc vineyards can be found at Spice Route’s Klein Amoskuil in the Swartland (planted in 1965). The second oldest existing Sauvignon Blanc vineyards are at Bloemendal (planted in the early 1970s).

8. How much Sauvignon Blanc is planted in South Africa?

Currently, Sauvignon Blanc holds a 10.9% (9 878 ha) share of total wine grape coverage in South Africa and is the fourth-most planted grape in the country, after Chenin Blanc (18.6%), Colombard (11.1%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (10.8%). The area under Sauvignon Blanc vines increased from 9.3% in 2014 to 10.9% in 2021.

SA Wine Industry Statistics Booklet (2021)

9. Where in South Africa are Sauvignon Blanc vines planted?

Sauvignon is widely distributed across all the wine-growing regions of South Africa.

SA Wine Industry Statistics Booklet (2021)

10. What style of wine can I expect from South African Sauvignon Blanc in general?

South Africa has the ability to produce many different styles of Sauvignon Blanc on account of the extremely varied geology and topography that characterise the wine-growing areas. The majority of South African Sauvignon Blanc wines are dry and aromatic with fresh acidity, however, it can also be used to produce high-quality dessert wines as Botrytis-infected Sauvignon Blanc is often used for Noble Late Harvest wines. It is usually easy to recognize, but not always. If the wine has spent a few months in oak barrels, for instance, the typical grape character is masked by other aromas.

The most noteworthy characteristic of Sauvignon Blanc is its unique and powerful aroma, which can awaken scents of grapefruit, flint, lime, melon, gooseberry, passion fruit, freshly mown grass, and bell pepper. The expression of these aromas varies depending on the terroir, vintage, and growing conditions of the grapes as well as winemaking techniques such as yeast strain and processing methods.

According to Charles Hopkins, cellar master at De Grendel Wine Estate, the different styles of Sauvignon Blanc wines can roughly be categorised into one or more of the following:

  • Esters – pear, apple, flower aromas due to the fermentation process
  • Volatile thiols – tropical flavours, like passion fruit, guava, citrus and black currant
  • Methoxypyrazine: green aromas, asparagus, lemongrass and capsicum
  • Wooded Sauvignon Blanc: sea kelp, minerality and vanilla
  • Natural Sauvignon Blanc: orange in colour, funky and phenolic

11. Oaked vs Unoaked Sauvignon Blanc?

The vessel in which the wine ferments and matures plays a major part in the wine’s character. To achieve balance and retain Sauvignon Blanc’s hallmark freshness, South African producers mainly use stainless steel, sometimes in combination with oak, which they often use sparingly to soften acidity and add depth and complexity.

Stainless steel preserves primary fruit flavours and aromas. It also prevents oxidation, due to its impermeability. Sauvignon Blanc aged in stainless steel will be fresh, clean and fruit-forward.
Many producers also explore how to add more dimension through barrel-ageing and related techniques. Winemakers generally employ used barrels that no longer impart flavour to add palate weight and creaminess in Sauvignon Blanc. The porosity of the wood allows for micro-oxygenation of the wine. Leaving the lees (dead yeast) in the barrel and stirring them occasionally (bâtonnage) gives Sauvignon Blanc a rounder, fuller body. Large oak vessels and/or used or neutral barrels are used to achieve subtle oak influence rather than overt oaky flavours. Natural wild yeast along with the presence of gross and fine lees for varying durations are further used to broaden the aromatic spectrum and flavour profiles.

12. Is Sauvignon Blanc often blended with other varietals?

Some grape varieties owe their claim to fame to single varietal offerings, whilst others have reached the pinnacle of success through blends. Only a handful have achieved both, and Sauvignon Blanc is one of them.

The most common blending partner for Sauvignon Blanc is Sémillon. The combination most certainly originated in Bordeaux and is occasionally enhanced by the addition of a third grape variety. The main success for the union between Sauvignon Blanc, known for its aromatics and acidity, and Sémillon for body and texture, is the ability of Sémillon to envelop the occasionally fiery temperament of Sauvignon Blanc which in turn imparts aromatic character to the more neutral Sémillon. For more long-lived bottlings, Sémillon’s harmonious and gradual ageing process plays a part over time, bolstering the wine’s body when the aromas of youthful Sauvignon Blanc fade away. One highly unusual feature of the Sauvignon-Sémillon blend is that it works just as well for dry wines as for sweet or noble rot variations. In South Africa, blends with Sémillon are increasing, particularly in cooler, coastal areas.

Other blending partners often used in South Africa include Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier. Similarly, a relatively neutral, aromatically shy variety such as Chardonnay is invigorated by a proportion of Sauvignon Blanc in the blend. As for Viognier, however pleasurable its richness and fat may seem (particularly the warm climate examples) the natural exuberance of Sauvignon Blanc brings drive to a blend that is still uncommon, but interesting.

13. What type of dishes are recommended for pairing with Sauvignon Blanc?

Sauvignon Blanc is perhaps the most versatile grape variety when it comes to food pairings. One of Sauvignon Blanc’s great assets is that it has the ability to show well on its own or with food, as an appetiser or with an entire meal. High acidity and bright, fresh flavours make Sauvignon Blanc a versatile food-friendly wine that can complement just about any dish. Generally speaking, the more strongly flavoured a food is, the more it needs an expressive and intense wine (this is true of all food pairings). However, food and wine pairing should almost be a non-issue: drink the wines you like with your favourite foods and enjoy!

When pairing, the key is to match the wine’s weight and flavour intensity with the weight and flavour intensity of the food. The following can be used as a guide when pairing food with Sauvignon Blanc.

  • All fish and shellfish, including oily fish, work well with dry Sauvignon Blanc. This makes the varietal a suitable partner in many parts of the world where fish is part of the local diet.
  • Sauvignon Blanc doesn’t shy away from fattier foods like pork meat and cold cuts, as the acidity counterbalances the fattiness.
  • Vegetables and herbs are also not a problem for Sauvignon Blanc, which pairs equally well with bitter as with sharp flavours. The more a vegetable is grilled, the more it needs an intensely flavoured wine. Wines with more pungent and herbal expressions work well.
  • Very reduced sauces may test the varietal’s limits or at least encourage us to opt for denser styles of wines (riper, higher alcohol Sauvignon Blanc) and perhaps oaked offerings.
  • For meats other than pork, all types of poultry and white meats, even pink veal, are potential partners for Sauvignon Blanc.
  • The only challenging pairings are with some types of red meat or game which can prove overpowering for the varietal’s flavours. However, some South African Sauvignon Blanc wines will prove this theory untrue!
  • Spicy foods will go well with either single varietal or Sauvignon Blanc – Sémillon blends.
  • Towards the end of the meal, puddings invariably call for sweetness in a wine. Obvious choices would therefore be late harvest Sauvignon Blanc wines, with or without noble rot. The best pairings here are with fruit-based desserts.
  • For those who prefer cheese to pudding, both dry and sweet versions of Sauvignon Blanc will work, depending on the type of cheese: dry wines for goat’s or sheep’s milk cheeses and hard or fermented cheeses; sweet wines for blue or creamy cheeses.

14. How do I store Sauvignon Blanc wine?

The vast majority of the white wines (and red wines for that matter) are intended to be consumed within 2 to 3 years. Only a small percentage of fine wines on the market benefit from long-term ageing.

There are a variety of options for properly storing wine, ranging from the economical, cool basement to the readily available wine refrigerator units and climate-controlled wine cabinets, all the way to a full-blown cellar. How you store your wines depends on your budget and available space. Sauvignon Blanc should be stored in a cool and dry area away from windows or other light sources. Heat is enemy number one for wine and especially Sauvignon Blanc. Higher and fluctuating temperatures will age a wine more quickly than is usually desirable. Lower temperatures will preserve the aroma and flavour. Bottles can be stored upright or horizontally.

Again, while Sauvignon Blanc’s naturally high acidity can be preserved through proper cellaring, it is usually best to drink this varietal soon after purchase.

15. How long does an opened bottle of Sauvignon Blanc last?

Once opened, a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc will generally last between two to four days when kept in the refrigerator. After the fifth day, the wine will begin to oxidize, resulting in unpleasant flavours. The wine can, however, still be used for cooking, flavouring sauces and marinades (even if oxidized).

16. What is the suggested serving temperature for Sauvignon Blanc wines?

Wine serving temperature can greatly affect the perception of the flavours and aroma of wines. The perfect serving temperature also depends on personal preference, so, by all means, drink Sauvignon Blanc whichever way you like!

Generally, unoaked Sauvignon Blanc is served at 8 °C, while oaked Sauvignon Blanc wines present better at a slightly warmer 11 °C.

A few tips:

  • If the wine burns your nose with the smell of alcohol, it might be too warm. Try cooling it down.
  • If the wine doesn’t have any flavour, try warming it up.
  • If the wine is too warm, immerse it in a mix of ice and cold water. This chills a bottle more quickly than ice alone because more of the glass is in contact with the cold source.
  • If the wine is too cold, decant it into a container rinsed in hot water or immerse it briefly in a bucket of warm water. Do not apply high heat. If the wine is only a little cold, just pour it into glasses and cup your hands around the bowl to warm it up.
  • Hold the glass by the stem, to avoid warming the wine with the heat from your hand.

17. What is the typical alcohol content of South African Sauvignon Blanc wines?

As you would expect of a relatively warm climate, many South African Sauvignon Blanc wines fall within the 12.5 – 13.5 % v/v bracket, though some can weigh in at a hefty 14.5% v/v.

18. What type of glassware do I use to serve Sauvignon Blanc wine?

Glassware is extremely important to wine appreciation. It influences how you perceive the colour, aroma and taste. Serve Sauvignon Blanc in white wine glasses, which are slightly taller and thinner compared to red wine glasses. It is not common to serve Sauvignon Blanc in a decanter.

19. What does New World Wine mean?

The most basic difference between Old World and New World wines is geographic: “Old World” refers to the traditional winegrowing regions of Europe, while “New World” refers to everything else.

Old World wine regions are where modern winemaking traditions first originated and are often associated with tradition and history. These winegrowing areas are found in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. These include (but are not limited to) France, Italy, Spain, Hungary, Portugal, Germany, Lebanon, Croatia, Israel and more. Most Old World regions reference their wines by region (think Sancerre, Barolo and Champagne).

New World refers to those countries that borrowed and often adapted traditions and winemaking practices from other countries to create their own industries. More often than not, this happened alongside colonization. New World wines are usually associated with technology, science, corporations and marketing. New World regions include South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, North America, South America and more. As far as “New World” goes, South African wine is definitely the oldest, having been first planted in the 1600s. Most New World regions reference their wines by cultivar/variety.

Old World wine tends to have lighter body, lower alcohol content, higher acidity and less fruity flavour with more herb, earth, mineral and floral components. New World wine tends toward fuller body, high alcohol, lower acidity and pronounced fruity flavours. This can be considered as gross generalizations, but that is how these terms are commonly used. Of course, exceptions will occur, for instance, New World wines with lower alcohol content and brighter acidity are becoming more popular as consumer/winemaker preferences continue to evolve.

20. What is the difference in taste between Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc?

These two varietals are easily confused in a blind tasting due to the fact that they in some way or another resemble each other – they are grapes that produce aromatic white wines with relatively high acidity. They can have vastly different flavour profiles, but depending on the exact offering, the wines might have some degree of overlap. The exact sensory composition of the wine will depend on where and how the wines were made and exceptions will always occur, but the following can be used as a rough guide for what to expect from the wines made from the two grape varietals:

When made with minimal winemaking intervention (therefore displaying mostly grape-derived aroma as opposed to aromas derived from processes such as oak contact), Sauvignon Blanc is rather unique in that it can have evident tropical fruit notes such as passionfruit and guava while also carrying herbaceous notes, such as grass and green pepper. The aromas of Chenin Blanc are more related to apple and quince notes. Tasters often report a distinctive waxy note when tasting Chenin Blanc wines which is absent in Sauvignon blanc wines.

21. What does it mean if a wine has legs/tears?

Wine legs are the droplets of wine that form on the inside of a wine glass. These tear-like droplets are believed by many to be a sign of quality.

Wine legs are an example of the Gibbs-Marangoni Effect (named after the 19th-century physicists Carlo Marangoni and Josiah Willard Gibbs, who first observed and studied the phenomenon) and is observed as the result of fluid surface tension caused by the evaporation of alcohol. When you swirl your wine you create a thin film of wine on the surface of the glass. As the alcohol evaporates, water and other molecules (such as tannins and sugar) collect on the sides of the glass creating droplets that fall back into the glass. Wine legs are therefore the innocent outcome of a physical phenomenon, determined by the wine’s chemical composition and affected by external factors such as temperature, humidity and pouring vessel (which directly affect the alcohol’s evaporation rate).

The truth of the matter is, that wine legs/tears tell you relatively little about the wine and nothing about the quality. The only information that legs offer to the wine enthusiast is that your wine contains alcohol…something you already knew. Wines with higher alcohol content tend to form legs/tears more easily. Therefore, if you see a lot of legs, you can guess that the wine has higher alcohol content, which you can taste as a warm/burning sensation in the back of your throat.

22. What gives a wine “length”?

The length of a wine expresses how long it persists on the palate after the wine has been swallowed (or spat out). Some people will also refer to this stage as the ‘finish’ and is often used as an indicator of quality. Incidentally, length isn’t the only component that contributes to a wine’s finish; texture, complexity and balance of components (especially acidity and alcohol) also weighs heavily.

Some wines reverberate a long time after they’ve left your mouth, and usually, a long finish is an admirable quality in a wine. However, a long finish only corresponds with quality when it is pleasant! In general, when a finish is described as “short,” it is usually considered as a negative trait unless you find the flavours of the wine to be unpleasant in which case you will be thankful for a short finish.

The length of a wine results from a multitude of oenological factors such as the relationship between compounds such as aroma molecules, pectins, tannins and polyphenols present in the wine and the makeup of your own saliva. Length does not depend on the grape variety, the age of the wine or the use of oak, but rather showcases the winemaker’s ability to craft a well-made wine.

23. What is “depth” in wine?

“Depth” is used as a criterion during the quality assessment of wine. It describes the complexity, concentration and richness of flavours and is often used as a tasting term for fine wines that appear to have several layers of taste or flavour, rather than being “flat” or “one dimensional”.

24. What is a “bold” wine?

“Bold” wines can be described as forceful, powerful, dramatic and forward. A wine that overtakes your mouth with its taste.

25. What is the difference between full, medium or light bodied wine?

The body of the wine refers to how thick or thin the wine feels in your mouth. It can be helpful if you think of wine in terms of milk. The lower the fat percentage in milk, the lighter the body, or less thick it feels in your mouth.

  • Light bodied wines are characterized by their lean, delicate nature. This is because this type of wine will usually have a light viscosity or consistency akin to the lightness of water. This does not necessarily mean that a light bodied wine is thin or unpleasant. It simply means that it is an easy drinking wine that pairs well with a variety of foods (especially light and lean foods, like chicken and salmon).
  • Full bodied wines are heavier with bold and complex flavours and a powerful aroma. These wines are typically meant to be enjoyed over a prolonged period since they are so bold.
  • Medium bodied wines fall somewhere in between light and full bodied wines. Medium bodied wines encompass a broad spectrum of wines and viscosities and are designed to complement a variety of foods.

Essentially, the body of a wine is a way to suggest the mouthfeel, alcohol content, and boldness of a type of wine – not the price or quality. Each type of wine have their own pros and cons and the choice of wine will depend on the occasion (including the preference of the consumer and how the wine is to be consumed) and perhaps the type of food the wine is to be enjoyed with.

26. What does terroir mean and is it important for Sauvignon Blanc?

Terroir is about the link between wine and its origin. The taste of any given wine, regardless of cultivar, is inextricably linked to its origin. Terroir at its most basic is a belief that the environment where the grapes are grown impart unique characteristics into the grape that could not be imparted by any other region of the world. Key factors that contribute to the specific terroir include topography, climate, geology and soil. All around the world, the identification of viticultural terroir is receiving a lot of attention, backed by an increasing demand by the consumer for knowledge and understanding of the origin of each wine produced.

Although falling within the warmer winegrowing regions, the Cape is influenced by two oceans and has a great diversity of topography and mesoclimatic conditions impacting the viticulture. In South Africa, wine producers are focused on identifying and selecting sites best suited to particular grape varieties and identifying viticultural practices such as canopy management and trellising to help unlock the potential of the terroir.