As one of the most popular white wines in the world, the sauvignon blanc taste profile appeals to a wide range of people. From the ardent wine snob to the food fanatic to the Friday night drinker who measures consumption in bottles, not glasses. No matter where you fit, you will find a wide range of styles available in sauvignon blanc which is part of the grape variety’s global appeal.
Sauvignon blanc tastes grassy and herbaceous, with high acidity and a range of fruit notes. Depending on where the white wine grape variety was grown you can have notes of gooseberry, melon, grapefruit, peach, or passionfruit. It’s a light to medium-bodied wine that can be an excellent aperitif or food pairing for lighter dishes with lots of aromatics.
There is obviously a lot to unpack in all of that. Here, I’m going to decode the world of sauvignon blanc wine to help you get the most out of this versatile and exciting variety.
Sauvignon Blanc Tasting Notes
Sauvignon blanc is available in two general styles – cooler climate sauvignon blanc and warmer climate sauvignon blanc.
There are, of course, nuanced differences within these styles but as a general rule, this is what you can expect:
Cool climate sauvignon blanc has notes of lime, gooseberry, and grapefruit. The grassy notes are more muted and you get hints of flinty smoke from some regions.
On the other hand, warm climate sauvignon wines tend to have more passionfruit and elderflower flavors with ripe peach, pear, and pea shoots.
Cooler Climate Sauvignon blanc
Main Flavors – Lime, gooseberry, grapefruit, flint, and a hint of smoke
The Loire valley in France is the main growing region for cooler climate crisp sauvignon blanc. It is also grown in Bordeaux (though it’s usually blended with Sémillon) and Alto Adige in Northern Italy, amongst others in the “cooler” style.
Loire Valley sauvignon blanc wines tend to have less fruit notes and more of a “mineral” quality. The fruit notes that do appear are more lime and gooseberry and the wine has an overall “grassy” feel with flinty notes (basically what your brain thinks a pebble would taste like).
In hotter years there may be a hint of the passionfruit and peach notes more common in warmer climate sauvignon blancs and some producers are moving in this direction anyway. But in general, expect more restrained fruit flavors and a bigger emphasis on the herbaceous and mineral qualities of the wine.
One thing to note is that if you see “silex” on a bottle of Loire Valley wine, this refers to the flinty soil the vines are planted in. You may find a stronger “gun smoke” or “flinty” flavor in the wine. Something to look for if you particularly like or dislike this as part of your sauvignon blanc flavor profile.
Warmer Climate Sauvignon Blanc
Main Flavors – Passionfruit, gooseberry, peach, grass, green pepper
This style is typified by the wines of Marlborough in New Zealand. The tropical fruit style has been a global sensation and New Zealand is firmly established as probably the most important sauvignon blanc producing country in the world.
Located at the northern end of New Zealand’s South Island (Te Waipounamu), Marlborough has the perfect combination of warm days with cooling breezes off the sea for growing grapes. The innovative style popularized by Cloudy Bay (now hugely overpriced and absolutely not worth buying) has become a firm favorite for millions of wine drinkers.
The wines from Marlborough are well balanced with hints of tropical fruit. This is countered by lively acidity and more herbal notes of green pepper and pea shoots.
However, many new world sauvignon blancs have become caricatures of this style. Sugar is added to initially give big, juicy, sweet fruit flavors which are then balanced with enamel stripping acidity to ensure the wine tastes “dry”.
Where Does Sauvignon Blanc Grow? (And How Does it Affect Flavor?)
Sauvignon blanc grows nearly everywhere in the world that wine is grown. This leads to a full spectrum of styles and an abundance of choice (too much choice?) for the sauvignon blanc drinker. I’ve picked out some of the more famous, and I think better, regions to look for when exploring and tasting sauvignon blanc wines.
I’ve broken this down into the two general “styles” of sauvignon blanc but this is just to try and make things nice and simple. There will always be variations from producer to producer depending on how they make the wine.
Cooler Climate Regions
Loire Valley (luh-wahr)
If you’re looking for Loire Valley sauvignon blanc wines then there are 5 main appellations to look for on the label:
- Sancerre (sawn-sehr) – The most famous (and therefore most expensive) of the sauvignon blanc producing regions of the Loire Valley. The wines tend to be complex with citrus and mineral notes dominating. It will be closer to medium-bodied with a “textural” mouthfeel.
- Pouilly Fumé (poo-yee foo-may) – Similar to Sancerre in terms of body and mouthfeel, Pouilly Fumé sauvignon often has a more pronounced “smokey” note. There will also be slightly softer acidity and more concentrated lime notes.
- Reuilly (roo-ee) – More fruity in style, with more prominent flavors of herbs and flowers than with Sancerre or Pouilly Fumé.
- Menetou-Salon (men-eh-too sa-lon) – These wines will have very fresh acidity and are a bit more floral in style. The flavors may be more subtle but seem to “pop” more on the palate (if that makes sense).
- Quincy (cahn-see) – Very similar to Reuilly in style but with maybe a few more fruit notes.
We’re splitting hairs here of course. There are A LOT of wine professionals that would seriously struggle to place each French sauvignon blanc if blindly given one from each region. This is just a guide to try and help you pick the area that sounds more appealing to you.
The main takeaway is to remember if you see any of those places on a bottle of white wine, or in the white section of a wine list, it’s a cooler climate-style Sauvignon blanc.
The sauvignon blanc grape originates from the Bordeaux region where a lot of it is still produced today. It is rarely used as a single varietal. Instead, it’s pretty much always used in a blend with the Sémillon (sem-ee-yon) grape variety. These blends can cost up to $1000 per bottle for the top producers and, to be honest, tend to be quite overpriced for what they are.
The Sémillon adds extra richness and oiliness to the wine which makes these blends great for food pairing. If you love the light and bright mineral-driven dry sauvignon blanc wines of the Loire, you probably won’t find the blends with Sémillon just as enjoyable.
Štajerska, Slovenia (sshTY-erss-ka)
Sauvignon blanc from Slovenia tends to occupy a middle ground between the intense minerality of the Loire and the bombastic fruit of New Zealand. For me, it’s much closer to the Loire style than New Zealand and can provide some stunning wines for bargain basement prices.
Expect to find a hint of the riper fruit that may appear in the hottest of Loire vintages. The lime and gooseberry flavors feel riper in character and the mineral notes are more background noise to the rest of the wine.
If you see a sauvignon blanc from Štajerska, I’d highly recommend you try it. It could be your new favorite wine and will probably be considerably cheaper than the French options.
Alto Adige, Italy (al-to ad-ij-ay)
If you look at a geological map of Northern Italy, Alto Adige is like a little volcanic rock island. Volcanic soil is full of cool elements that make interesting flavors in the produce grown in them. The sauvignon blanc from Alto Adige is no exception. It can vary a bit, but many are in the more mineral style typical of France but with more exciting notes from the volcanic soil.
Sadly, these wines are not that common internationally. You are more likely to find it on a restaurant wine list than in a wine shop. But it’s certainly a good one to try if you see it.
Styria, Austria (sh-too-ree-ah)
Sauvignon blanc makes up a tiny proportion of the wine made in Austria, but Styria is the perfect place to produce the cooler climate style. The Austrian state lies right on the border with Slovenia and is a stunning landscape of steep hills and terraced vineyards.
The sauvignon blanc taste profile from Styria isn’t as herbal as those from France. But it’s also nowhere near the tropical fruit styles of the warmer climates. Strict farming practices and rules around yield maintain a really good quality too. Again, it’s not easy to find but a real treat when you do.
Warmer Climate Regions
The following are the main warmer climate regions for growing sauvignon blanc grapes. In terms of global grape production, these are not the warmest or even particularly “hot”. The grape variety still thrives best in relatively cool conditions like at high altitudes or near the sea.
Aconcagua, Chile (ah-con-cahg-wa)
Within the Aconcagua wine region, the valleys of Casablanca, San Antonio, and Leyda all produce some lovely warmer climate sauvignon blanc. As an added bonus, they are often without the price tag of many New Zealand offerings.
For me, the best Chilean sauvignon blanc comes from the Leyda Valley as they are slightly more restrained. Usually, the herbaceous notes are slightly more prominent and the tropical fruit is a little more understated.
If you’re a fan of big, juicy sauvignon blancs then will find great joy in the offerings from Casablanca and San Antonio.
Stellenbosch, South Africa
Sauvignon blanc is grown in every wine region in South Africa. Considering how hot some areas are, it’s a fairly incredible feat. The area where the most sauvignon blanc is planted is in Stellenbosch, part of the Southern Cape region around Cape Town where it is widely planted. You might also find some higher alcohol sauvignon blanc from here.
The best South African sauvignon blancs come from coastal regions or higher elevation vineyards. Here, they display the balance of tropical, citrus, and herbaceous flavors that make Marlborough wines so popular. Being a warmer climate style, they tend more towards the bombastic tropical fruit and acidic sauvignon blanc.
Rueda, Spain (roo-eh-da)
Rueda is either horrifyingly hot, or teeth-chatteringly cold. The difference in day and night temperatures Rueda, central Spain, is either horrifyingly hot or teeth-chatteringly cold – there’s no in between. But it’s the difference between day and night temperatures that allows a cooler climate grape like sauvignon blanc to grow here. Despite this being an “old world” region, the style is distinctly tropical and grassy, like New Zealand.
You won’t find the insane tropical fruit tastes and acidic wines here. But it’s still common to taste big passionfruit flavors, with peach, lime, and grass in the wines.
Margaret River, Australia
Coastal winds cooling the vineyards is a common theme in the non-European regions which grow sauvignon blanc. And Margaret River in Western Australia is no different.
Whilst it’s more famous for chardonnay and pinot noir, Margaret River has a stellar international reputation as a “cooler climate” growing region in Australia. (Cooler climate is a relative term here, comparing it to the terrifyingly hot regions like Barossa Valley.)
You’ll find some serious tropical fruit tasting sauvignon here, as well as big hits of lime, gooseberry, and pepper. There is variation between producers, with some producing styles closer to the best of Marlborough, but in general, expect big tropical fruit notes.
Adelaide Hills, Australia
Similar to Margaret River, the cooling ocean breezes in Adelaide Hills temper the otherwise searingly hot vineyards. The sauvignon blanc here expresses similar characteristics to those produced in the Margaret River region, although they are often slightly cheaper.
Uco Valley, Argentina
While Argentina is denied the cooling breezes of the sea in its main wine regions, it does have the advantage of altitude. The Uco Valley is one of the highest wine-producing areas in the country, producing intensely complex and herbaceous sauvignon blanc grapes. Passionfruit and gooseberry become mere hints compared to the green pepper, pea shoot, and grassy notes.
This sauvignon blanc taste profile may not be to everyone’s taste, but I love that many producers in Argentina are going their own way, rather than chasing a popular style. Uco Valley produces beautiful new world sauvignon blanc that is one to try for sure. As long as the price is right.
History of Sauvignon Blanc
The first sauvignon blanc grapes originated in the south of France. It is believed to be a descendent of Savagnin, a grape variety that grew wild in South-Western France before being cultivated in Bordeaux and the Loire. The name comes from the French “sauvage” for “wild” and “vigne” meaning “vine”. All together, sauvignon blanc translates as “white wild vine”.
The first mention of it is found in the late 16th century when the grape was known as “surin”. It was cultivated in Bordeaux during the 17th century where it was also crossed with Cabernet Franc. The result was the now globally famous Cabernet Sauvignon grape variety.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that sauvignon bland vines were brought to New Zealand. And then a further 20 plus years before they produced the distinctive style that has conquered the wine-loving world.
How to Serve Sauvignon Blanc
As with all wine, “however you like it” is the correct answer.
But if we’re going to be technical, and I guess I spend a lot of time doing that, then lighter-bodied white wines like sauvignon blanc should be served around 45°F (7°C). Serving it too cold suppresses the flavor compounds (the same goes for all other white wines too).
If you’re into specific glassware for specific grapes, then a tulip-shaped white wine glass is ideal for sauvignon blanc. However, if you enjoy it ice cold from a coffee mug then I’d suggest serving it like that. To each their own and all that.
Sauvignon Blanc Food Pairing
The best advice I can give is to eat whatever the heck you want with your wine. But we’re here to talk about what things work best with sauvignon blanc, so I’ll do that too.
Sauvignon blanc is very aromatic with herb notes, it also has high acidity and a light body. We can take these one at a time and get a good idea as to what sort of thing is going to pair well with the taste of sauvignon blanc.
Aromatic with Herb Notes
Aromatic wines go well with aromatic foods.
We also have the herb notes to consider so dishes that also have big herb flavors, whether that is parsley, basil, coriander, rosemary, etc will work well. Other light aromatics such as sumac, coriander seed, fennel, and saffron will also work well.
When we see high acidity in wine for food pairing it means it’ll work with two things – other acidic things and fatty foods.
Now sauvignon blanc is also light-bodied so we want to avoid too much animal fat. But things with olive oil, young cheeses, yogurt, and crème fraîche are good bets.
The acidity means citrus-based dishes are a wonderful pairing.
We can combine the fat and acid components to find one of the classic sauvignon blanc wine pairings: goat’s cheese.
Be careful with chilis or other forms of heat. A little will be fine, but very acidic wine will exacerbate the spicy compounds resulting in a very unpleasant eating and drinking experience.
Sauvignon blanc is a light to light/medium-bodied wine. When we’re looking at food, considering all of the above, we need to keep that in mind so we don’t overpower it. This will mostly affect the proteins we choose to pair:
Light flavored fish and shellfish such as cod, trout, tilapia, sole, crab, and lobster as well as chicken and turkey will go nicely.
Fish and shellfish with stronger flavors, like salmon, mackerel, tuna, sea urchin (cos we all eat sea urchins at home), and brown crab meat may well be too strong for the wine.
This all depends on the cooking method, sides, and sauce of course.
Keep in mind that roasting adds richness, as does pan frying. The sauce served will also make a big difference. Chicken or turkey should only be paired with sauvignon blanc if they’re prepared in a light, aromatic sauce. Lobster mac and cheese is not a sauvignon blanc dish for example.
The classic response to white wine pairing well with “chicken and seafood” really irritates me. It seems to suggest that all chicken and seafood taste the same which it clearly doesn’t.
You also don’t want the food to be heavier than the wine, or it’ll overpower it. It’s a balancing act really, but with some trial and error, you’ll find it’s actually fairly simple.
Is the Sauvignon Blanc Taste Profile Right For me?
The sauvignon blanc taste profile covers two types of white wine drinkers:
Those who love restrained, lighter styles of wine with more citrus-style dry fruits and refreshing acidity. But also those who enjoy big tropical fruit notes in dry white wines alongside very sharp acidity.
It’s this duality that makes sauvignon blanc so popular around the world. OK, it won’t quite be suitable for literally everyone. But it does cover a huge percentage of wine drinkers in a couple of general styles.
All you need to do is choose the style of sauvignon blanc that sounds best for you.
Sauvignon blanc is most commonly a dry white wine. When it hails from particularly cooler climate regions of the wine world, you can expect a very dry sauvignon blanc wine.
There are some sauvignon blanc wines that feel “dry” due to their very high acidity but actually contain quite a bit of residual sugar. These are generally from lower quality wine producers in warmer climate growing regions.
One of the most famous (and expensive) sweet wines in the world, Sauternes, includes sauvignon blanc in its blend. You won’t find this information on the label, however, and its good to keep in mind that the majority of sauvignon blanc wines are dry. That said, it can make some very good sweet wine due to the high acidity. If you want the sweet sauvignon blanc taste, look for “Late Harvest” on the label.