It is entirely appropriate that International Sauvignon Blanc Day, which falls this Friday, 7 May, comes at the height of spring, since sauvignon blanc is pretty much the perfect white wine for the time of year.
Its zesty, grassy, herbaceous flavours perfectly complement foods in season, like asparagus or wild garlic, and it is ideal with white fish, salads and young goats’ cheeses.
Sauvignon blanc presses all the right buttons for reliability, value for money, food friendliness and youthful approachability. It is mostly best drunk fairly young, although it can age surprisingly well – which has made it the go-to bottle for a refreshing and palate enlivening after work glass, whether it’s from the fridge door at home or in a bar with friends, obviously outdoors for the moment. So it is not surprising that a survey of 4,500 UK wine drinkers last year voted it their favourite type of supermarket-bought wine.
What is surprising is just a few decades ago, it was far less ubiquitous. Although the wines of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé in the Loire Valley were justly celebrated, they often had a premium price and fought for popularity with the chardonnay blockbusters of Chablis and white Burgundy.
Everything changed in 1979, when New Zealand began producing sauvignon blanc on the alluvial soils of the now famed Marlborough region on the northern tip of its South Island.
Now Kiwi sauvignon is considered among the best in the world and justifiably popular for its very dry, tropical fruit and gooseberry flavours. Chile, South Africa and others have joined in, making sauvignon blanc one of the most widely produced and popular grapes globally.
All of which makes it difficult to select the 10 wines we have here, but rest assured, whether from their original French home or the new world, these wines represent real class and value for money, whatever your budget.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism acrossThe Independent.
Kleine Zalze cellar selection sauvignon blanc 2019, 13%
Although South Africa is better known for transforming another grape associated with the Loire – chenin blanc – into its very own distinctive style, its sauvignon blancs, which benefit from high altitude vineyards or cooling ocean breezes, have now produced some stunning examples, of which this surely is one of the best for – both value for money and flavour. Kleine Zalze is run by the Basson family in the famed Stellenbosch region of the Cape, and on an estate which has seen winemaking since the 17th century.
This award winning wine rivals some of the Kiwi wines for punchiness and fruit packed aromas, and flavours of elderflower, citrus and passionfruit, with a long persistent finish. A wine that achieves terrific purity of power and flavours, and a perfect match for a seared tuna steak or any lightly spiced South-East Asian dishes.
Errazuriz single vineyard sauvignon blanc 2019, 13%
Don Maximiano Errázuriz has become one of the legendary names in Chilean winemaking, planting his first vineyards in the 1870s, although for many years the focus was on classic red wines. Much later it was realised that the cool climate and sea breezes in the Casablanca Valley were ideal territory to produce white wines like sauvignon blanc.
This single vineyard wine is sourced from a specific block at the La Escultura Estate, only planted in 1992, and is packed with flavours of green apples, citrus and pineapples, shot through with a sparkling acidity and mouth filling freshness that positively zings on the palate. A wine that is redolent of spring and is just the ticket for any fresh seafood, but is particularly suited to sushi or to the lime and chile flavours of ceviche, one of Chile’s favourite dishes.
Greywacke sauvignon blanc 2020, 13.5%
Kevin Judd, winemaker at Cloudy Bay from its inception and for more than 25 years, did probably more than anyone to define the Marlborough style and make it popular throughout the world. In 2009, he realised a long-held ambition to create his own wine in his own distinctive style, and named it after the rounded stones found in the Marlborough vineyard soils.
His Greywacke is made from grapes drawn from various vineyards around the region, with a wide variety of soil types, and the resulting wine is much more upfront and fruit forward than Cloudy Bay, while retaining the signature style of the region. It is packed with rich, mellow tropical fruits, with softer melon and peach flavours in the mix; succulent but concentrated and focused, with a long, dry, lingering finish. Like Cloudy Bay, however, it does require fine seafood on the table.
Joseph Mellot Sancerre la gravelière 2018 , 12.5%
The original French epicentre of sauvignon blanc lies in the upper Loire Valley, where the limestone and gravelly soils around the ancient hilltop village of Sancerre deliver the classic, bone dry, bracing minerality that characterises wines from the area. The soils themselves are derived from ancient ocean beds and so, despite this being a long way from today’s seas, fossilised shells of oysters sometimes appear among the stones.
The Mellot family’s history of winemaking doesn’t go quite that far back, just to the 16th century, but years of tradition and careful winemaking shine through in every mouthful of this precise, elegant wine. Made in cellars underneath the village, it achieves a terrific balance between crisp, gooseberry freshness and fullness of flavour. And of course a wine that is particularly suited to one type of seafood – oysters. A great special occasion and dinner party wine.
Estevez Chilean sauvignon blanc, 12.5%
Chilean sauvignon blanc tends to fall somewhere between the softer, fruiter European styles and the fuller flavoured Kiwi version. Aldi have a great track record in finding terrific little bottles at seriously, sometimes mind bogglingly good prices, and this is a stunning bargain from their excellent spring range. Produced in the Casablanca Valley, it is probably closer to the Kiwi style, delivering intense floral aromas when the convenient screw cap is off, and is packed with orchard and tropical fruit flavours – you can get peach and pineapple in the same mouthful.
A bottle to keep in the fridge door for everyday drinking and a perfect picnic or aperitif wine to seriously perk up the palate. And when we are allowed to have parties again, it is definitely one to buy in bulk…
Chateau De Tracy Pouilly-Fumé 2019, 13.5%
On the opposite side of the Loire to Sancerre lies Pouilly-Fumé, which, like Sancerre, relied upon its distinctive limestone soils to nourish its grapes, and the great river itself to transport the wine to consumers in France and around the world. Pouilly-Fumé is just a bit more distinct from Sancerre in the smoky bouquet that often comes from the bottle, sometimes called a “gun flint” aroma, although not that many of us regularly smell flintlock guns these days.
Like the Mellot family, the Tracy family – originally from Scotland – have several centuries of winemaking tradition behind them, and run their 33 hectares of vineyards on environmentally friendly grounds. This is refined, aromatic and another gorgeous dinner party wine, particularly well-suited to asparagus and prime white fish, such as a big baked brill or turbot.
Hollick ‘The Bard’ sauvignon blanc 2020, 13%
Until recently, all the focus on Australian whites was, of course, on chardonnay, often in the heavily oaked style, and it was thought that the climate did not always favour sauvignon, which is better suited to cooler zones. However, Australian sauvignon is getting increasing recognition, sometimes on its own, sometimes blended with semillon – as it is in Bordeaux – to smooth out some of Sauvignon’s more boisterous edges.
In Coonawara, in South Australia, the Hollick family have been growing vines since the 1970s, specialising originally in chardonnay and red wine grapes, but this bottle shows the real potential for sauvignon blanc. Named in honour of Australia’s best known poet John Shaw Neilson, who was raised in the cottage on the Hollick estate’s Neilson’s Block vineyard, “The Bard” has a complex flavour palate, combining fresh, grassy, vegetal flavours with some distinct tropical fruit notes, resulting in a restrained and balanced whole.
Vergelegen reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2018, 14%
Vergelengen, based in the Western Cape, is one of the biggest names in South African wine, in business since 1700 and now covering 3000 hectares of vines, its robust red and elegant white wines have notched up numerous awards. So it’s not surprising that its reserve sauvignon blanc from the Schaapenberg Vineyardis a real blockbuster wine with, for a sauvignon blanc, a relatively high alcohol level of 14 per cent.
Aged on the lees for several months to deliver that extra complexity, this is a big mouthful of wine that wears its boldness proudly, brimming with very ripe tropical fruit flavours of guava, lemongrass, passionfruit and pineapple, but staying refreshingly dry and mineral. This is a wine to match with strong flavours – such as an Asian spiced pork belly or a big plate of seafood, but so long as it includes oysters.
Ara select block sauvignon blanc, 12.5%
Sauvignon blanc from the Marlborough region now totally dominates New Zealand wine production to the point that the region is now running out of land to plant vines. And with literally dozens if not hundreds of wines, choosing the best ones is a difficult job, although there are plenty of mass produced sauvignons that simply do not make it into consideration, usually because they are too mouth-puckering and gooseberry astringent to deliver much drinking pleasure.
The best of the medium priced wines, such as this Ara Block, provide a great balance between those bright, grassy, grapefruit and gooseberry flavours and some richer tropical notes, usually of guava and passionfruit, and with a crisp ending. Based in the scenic south-western tip of Marlborough and benefitting from a cooler climate, Ara’s wines, from a 400 hectare sustainably managed vineyard, punch above their price points for purity, elegance and flavour. Be sure to keep an eye out for when this bottle is back in stock.
Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc 2020, 13.5 %
Taking its name from the most easterly point of the Wairau Valley – named by the explorer Captain James Cook when he discovered this region of the South Island in 1770 – Cloudy Bay was launched by Australian winemaker David Hohnen in the mid 1980’s. Since then, although vintages can vary according to climate, it has played a crucial part in fuelling the explosion of the region, and it remains the benchmark against which all other premium-priced Marlborough sauvignons are judged. And so, it has to be included in this list.
More subtle than many of its successors and competitors, it is nevertheless complex and elegant, with masses of citrus flavours such as nectarines and limes and lemons, with fabulous freshness, purity and intensity. And to do it justice, you really need the finest seafood, prepared without too much fuss or additions, so that the beauty of the wine shines through. However, like most sauvignon blancs, it will pair happily with a variety of foods, from roast chicken to South-East Asian spiced dishes.
The verdict: Sauvignon blanc
With sauvignon prices so variable and with so many different discounts and price points – compare the Estevez with the Cloudy Bay – what works for one person or what is suitable for one occasion might not work for another, and both these two wines are absolutely terrific in their own ways.
But for all round great value, suiting both the midweek meal in front of the television, but also not out of place on a special occasion dinner table, the Kleine Zalze cellar selection sauvignon blanc 2019 gets our best buy vote. Enjoy.
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