Great sauvignon only comes from the Loire Valley (Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé) or New Zealand (think Cloudy Bay).
Great sauvignon only comes from the Loire Valley (Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé) or New Zealand (think Cloudy Bay). That's the impression given by fans of sauvignon blanc's zip and zing. But Bordeaux's sprawling Graves region can also claim the world's greatest sauvignon. And when sauvignon is blended with sémillon grapes it produces dry whites that are up there with grand cru burgundy. Such great whites include Domaine de Chevalier (two-thirds sauvignon), Laville Haut-Brion (two-thirds sémillon) and the king itself, Haut-Brion (two-thirds sémillon).
The best of the wines that used to be called Graves (so called because of the gravelly soil) are now represented by those from the smaller Pessac-Léognan enclave within the region. Being south of the Loire, Pessac-Léognan doesn't produce a sauvignon blanc with quite the penetrating, "cat's-pee-on-a gooseberry-bush" pungency. It compensates by becoming fuller-bodied, and when blended with the rich and waxy sémillon grape, often a richer, more complex, and more food-friendly dry white than its Loire counterpart.
Unfortunately like all the best French wines, such Graves classics as Pessac-Léognan have priced themselves out of the market. Luckily along have come New World producers to show that what France can do, they can do cheaper, if not better. They've done it for Sancerre. New Zealand, and, latterly, South Africa, have cracked sauvignon blanc. And now New World producers have got to grips with sauvignon, a growing number are blending it with sémillon, for exciting new Graves-like dry whites.
Sooner or later, Jacob's Creek had to crack it, and sure enough, Australia's favourite drop recently released a Jacob's Creek Semillon Sauvignon, whose affordable 2003 is a runaway success at Tesco, £5.03. The best region to date for the Graves style is Western Australia's Margaret River. From Juniper Estate, for instance, the 2002 Estate Semillon, £10.54, Adnams, Southwold (01502 727222; www.adnamswines.co.uk), is a bold, full-flavoured dry white, half barrel-fermented for texture and complexity, half cold-fermented in stainless steel to retain the wine's zesty freshness. A candidate for the best such blend outside Bordeaux is the 2002 Cullen Margaret River Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, £13.99-£15.99, Oddbins Fine Wine, Andrew Chapman, Abingdon (01235 550707), Hoults, Huddersfield (01484 510700), a crisply refreshing dry white with aromas of lemon and lime and a hint of asparagus, oozing juicy gooseberry fruitiness.
From New Zealand's South Island the 2002 Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, £11.90-£13.50, Berry Bros & Rudd, Fortnum & Mason, Harvey Nichols, is an immensely rich and a seductive blend of the two grape varieties, whose powerful green bean aromas lead to exotic undertones of lychee and a gooseberryish tang. Elsewhere, the country making the most impressive headway with the style is South Africa, where the sémillon grape can often do the trick on its own. From the cool Constantia region, the 2003 Steenberg Semillon, £8.49, Sainsbury's, is a delectably rich, barrel-fermented dry white with angelica spice and citrus peel zesty acidity, while the Jack and Knox Wellington Green on Green 2002 Semillon, £9.99, Oddbins, combines smoky aromatics with richness and the intensely juicy flavours of the grape. Which all goes to show that even if you can't take the gravel out of the Graves, you can at least take the Graves style from the gravel.Reuse content