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Thought to have got its name from the French words for wild, and white – sauvage and blanc respectively, its planted in many of the worlds wine regions, but its spiritual home is France, shared by both Bordeaux and the Loire. However, it also produces fine wines in the cooler regions of South Africa, Australia, Chile and Italy.
And then of course there is New Zealand - the variety was first planted here in the 1970’s, and in Marlborough on the northern tip of the South Island, it found a natural home, producing wines which impressed the world with their distinctive pungency and extraordinary intense flavours.
In Bordeaux, although usually blended with Semillon, it is the only grape that may be produced as a straight varietal, and it is also responsible for the great dessert wines of Sauternes and Barsac, where it is always blended with Semillon and sometimes a little Muscadelle.
An aromatic grape with high acidity, it generally produces zesty, zingy little numbers, usually to be enjoyed young - although not usually partnered with oak, barrel fermentation can produce some stunning wines, capable of ageing, particularly from Bordeaux’s Graves and Pessac-Léognan regions and New Zealand. However, its character varies according to the conditions in which it is grown. Chalk and Kimmeridgean marl produce rich, complex wines, whilst more compact chalk makes examples with more perfume and finesse. Gravel accounts for spicy, floral and mineral notes.
Practically the whole gamut of aromas and flavours are represented.
Herbaceous – green characteristics of nettles and grass.
Vegetal – asparagus, green and red peppers [capsicums], which are really brought out in cooler climates.
Fruit – fresh green apple, grapefruit, lime and gooseberry in cool climates, through to exotic tropical notes of melon, mango and passion fruit in warmer areas. It can also have a distinct nose of blackcurrants.
Mineral – flint. In the Pouilly area of the Loire, flint with deposits of limestone can impart a wood smoke, gunflint flavour – hence the name – fume is French for smoke. In 1968 this led the late Robert Mondavi to coin the name Fume Blanc for Californian Sauvignon Blanc.
Curiously, sometimes notes of cats pee and sweat can also be detected!