David 11 February 2016
I was recently reading some statistics on Australia’s consumption of bottled wine by variety. Out front by a long shot was Sauvignon Blanc, which might seem odd given that plantings here are dwarfed by Shiraz, Chardonnay and Cabernet. The explanation is simple. Australian wine exports are strong, while oceans of commercial style Sauvignon Blanc (known amongst critics as The Savalanche) are being imported from Marlborough NZ.
The recent popularity of Sauvignon Blanc surprises me, given the variety’s very distinctive nature. It wasn’t that long ago that Sauvignon was a hard sell, barely rating a mention on many wine lists. While there are obviously many people who like the variety and drink plenty of it, there are also many who loathe it. It really polarises opinions.
Sauvignon Blanc is an aromatic white variety widely planted in Bordeaux, as well as the Loire Valley and the New World, especially New Zealand. It was recently determined that, along with Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc is a parent of Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s also related to Chenin Blanc and Semillon.
The variety tends to make wines that are fresh and zesty, with a highly distinctive aroma, particularly in new world examples. Descriptors include: herbaceous, grassy, tinned asparagus, passionfruit and even ‘tomcats’ (polite way of saying cats’ piss). The flavour compounds responsible for these distinctive ‘green’ characters in Sauvignon Blanc are called methoxypyrazines, and those of you familiar with unripe Cabernet will recognise them. Methoxypyrazines tend to diminish as grapes ripen and tend to be higher in grapes grown in cooler climates.
So I’ve found a few Sauv Blancs for lovers and loathers alike. These wines are elegant and fresh. Perfect for a few drinks with friends and delicious with dinner.
This family run estate is situated in Oslavia, a town of just 150 inhabitants, in the hills 150km north-east of Venice. With the Slovenian, border only 200m to the east of the Fiegl estate, signs in the town are in both Slovenian and Italian.
The Fiegl family has been in the wine game here since 1782. They were originally grape growers but in the last few generations have moved into winemaking. The current generation, Alessio, Giuseppe and Rinaldo have made big investments in both vineyards and the winery to ensure the quality of their wines. They now have about 26ha of vines, most of which are tended manually, using ‘eco-compatible’ methods.
Oslavia is in the wine subregion of Collio, a DOC (recognised appellation) within the region of Friuli and Friuli has a reputation for some of the best white wines in Italy. They tend to be fragrant, lively and without much oak influence. Despite the long history of winemaking in the area, this fresh signature style is a recent innovation, introduced by winemaker Mario Schiopetto in the late 1960s. Since then, winemaking in this region has been technologically advanced. Most cellars, including Fiegl, feature modern equipment such as pneumatic bag presses, refrigeration, cold fermentation and sterile filtration, all of which are designed to maximise fresh fruit character.
Fiegl produces several wines, including their Villa Dugo range, which I reckon is incredible value. These wines come from estate vineyards 30km south of Oslavia, in the north of Isonzo, (the DOC directly to the south of Collio).
The reason I like the Villa Dugo wines is that they offer something a little different to the fruity conformity of most wines at this price. They’re modern and clean, but still interesting and distinctly Italian.
I’m not sure you’d pick this as a Sauvignon Blanc when first poured, even after it’s opened up in the glass it’s not that obvious. You’ll find lemon sherbet, tropical fruits as well as some sweet melon notes. But it’s the slightly savoury minerality and texture that provides the extra dimension and sets it apart from other typical New World Sauvignon Blanc of the same price. Clean, simple and dry, with refreshing acidity - more like a Bordeaux blanc, Italian style.
You’ll find it at Steve Manfredi’s Osteria Balla at the Star Casino where it's the house white or $55 a bottle. This is great value drinking.
I can offer it for $19 a bottle. SOLD OUT.
2. Domaine Du Salvard ‘UNIQUE’ Sauvignon Blanc 2014
The beautiful Loire Valley is a region well known for Sauvignon Blanc. In the middle of the valley is an area known as Touraine, home to the famous appellations of Chinon, Bourgueil and Vouvray. Also here, near the town of Blois, you’ll find the small and relatively unknown appellation of Cheverny (pronounced sher-vair-nee). The appellation covers around 550ha and while it does produce some light reds and rosés, most Cheverny is a white blend comprising 60%-80% Sauvignon Blanc.
Aside from its status as a quiet achiever, Cheverny is best known for the Château de Cheverny. Tintin fans like me know the building was used by Hergé as the inspiration for Marlinspike Hall, home of Captain Haddock.
One of the best producers in Cheverny is Domaine du Salvard. This 42 ha estate is currently run by the fifth generation of the Delaille family and they’ve made significant improvements to the estate including the introduction of sustainable farming practices into the vineyards, and temperature-controlling equipment in the winery. The Delaille brothers make several highly regarded classic Cheverny wines, but it’s the one not labelled as a Cheverny that caught my attention.
Recent changes to appellation laws require Chardonnay to be included if ‘Cheverny’ is used on the label. Zut alors! The wine, aptly named ‘Unique’, is sourced from estate grown 20+ year old vines, but it’s 100% Sauvignon Blanc, so it’s simply labelled Vin de Pays Du Val de Loire and Famille Delaille instead of Domaine du Salvard.
It’s a fresh, racy and delicate wine; no fruit-salad-punch-in-the-mouth here.
“Salvard's Unique is an outstanding Loire Valley example of this grape. It's pithy, intense and focused with flavours of white pepper, citrus fruit and fresh green herbs. There's mouth-watering acidity and a fine, chalky finish. Lower than average yields have taken the texture here up another notch. Compelling value (as always) from a very fine Loire Valley vintage.” Bibendum Wine Co.
You’ll find it on the list for $10 a glass or $55 a bottle at the highly awarded and very groovy ‘The Barber Shop’ in York Street in Sydney.
I can offer it for $23 a bottle. SOLD OUT
Terre à Terre Sauvignon Blanc 2013
Terre à Terre is the work of Xavier Bizot and Lucy Croser, a husband a wife team with an enviable winemaking lineage. Xavier’s father was Bollinger patriarch and chairman Christian Bizot and Lucy’s father is Brian Croser of Petaluma fame.
The couple married in 2003 and returned from Paris in 2005 to establish Terre à Terre, (down to earth) a small domaine in Wrattonbully, just north of Coonawarra. They also own a magnificent elevated site in the Adelaide Hills, from which they produce a top sparkling wine named Daosa. Critics have lauded their efforts - Halliday has given the winery 5 Stars every year since its first entry in his Wine Companion in 2011. Quite an effort!
It’s easy to confuse the Terre a Terre 'Single Vineyard' Sauvignon Blanc with the cheaper Terre à Terre 'Down to Earth' Sauvignon Blanc - but they’re very different wines.
I had a chat with Lucy and she explained the two to me. The ‘Down to Earth’ is a more new world style, made entirely in stainless steel - the result is fresh and fruit driven. The single vineyard ‘Terre a Terre’ on the other hand, follows in the style of white Bordeaux and particularly Sancerre (Loire). The fruit is handpicked from a closely planted vineyard and is fermented in a combination of old barriques (225L) and demi-muids (600L) as well as new demi-muids. After fermentation the wine is racked off less (dead yeast cells) and put back in the same oak for a further 6-9 months. The wine doesn’t go through malolactic fermentation in order to preserve its crispness.
The result is simply an amazing Sauvignon Blanc that’s minerally and textured, yet vibrant and fresh. It’s great with a meal and will even take a little bottle age.
Unfortunately not much of this highly awarded wine is made but I can offer 2 vintages.
“The wine has outstanding line, length and balance, the fruit expression almost piercing in its intensity. Don't go looking for Marlborough fruit salad, because you won't find it.” 96 points, James Halliday, Australian Wine Companion. (Equal highest score for a Sauvignon Blanc in the 2015 Halliday’s Wine Companion and was included in his 'Best of Sauvignon Blanc' in 2015).
“Increasingly proving itself as a contender for best Sauvignon Blanc in Australia. Subtle wood and lees work lends luxurious texture and complexity. Gentle curves aside, there's a core of driving fruit and crisp acidity, which makes the wine more compelling. Cracker.” 94 points, Mike Bennie, The Wine Front.
I can offer it for $28 a bottle. Click here to order
4. Terre à Terre Single Vineyard Wrattonbully Sauvignon Blanc 2014
This wine was awarded the highly coveted Best Sauvignon Blanc of the Year at the James Halliday Wine Companion Awards for 2016. Yes, that’s the best Sauvignon. Wow! An incredible achievement!
“Xavier Bizot has well and truly mastered the impossible: given tremendous texture and structure by the oak handling, yet simultaneously highlighting the intense stream of pure citrus, stone fruit and snow pea flavours. Will not die in its tracks either.” 97 points, James Halliday. Also received a Special Value Rating.
Unsurprisingly, given the hoopla surrounding the award, the wine sold out very quickly. Luckily I managed to get just a few cases. Be quick if you’d like some.
I can offer it for $30 a bottle (limited). SOLD OUT.
In the upper reaches of the Loire, lies the famed appellation of Sancerre. Along with Pouilly Fumé, which sits on the opposite bank of the river, this is considered by many as the finest area for Sauvignon in the world.
The soil in Sancerre is similar to that of Chablis, chalky and well drained, and the wines have a certain similarity. Eric Asimov, WineCritic for The New York Times; “In contrast to Sauvignon Blancs from elsewhere, and particularly from New Zealand, good Sancerres are characteristically restrained rather than exuberant, perfumed with citrus and chalk rather than bold fruit. The aromas and flavors are of lime, grapefruit and lemon, of flowers and sometimes of herbs, and of minerality, a kind of catchall impressionistic description of a quality found in many great wines. They also have a texture and depth to them that belies the widespread notion that Sauvignon Blanc can produce only simple wines,” 2009.
Unfortunately years of acclaim and popularity have led to laziness and opportunism in Sancerre, and the last few decades have seen falling standards. Nowdays over 95% of fruit is picked by machine and it’s all too easy to find plenty of mediocre Sancerre.
But blessed with remarkable talent and terroir, Alphonse Mellot is one producer capable of realising the potential of Sauvignon Blanc in Sancerre.
“True artists with Sauvignon… (the Mellot family’s) worthy aspirations have gradually raised them to the peaks of the great Sauvignons of the world. Alphonse Mellot’s white Sancerres are amongst the most brilliant and pure illustrations of the genius of the Sauvignon grape.”The World's Greatest Wines, Michel Bettane and Thierry Desseauve, 2008. Two Stars - producteur de très grande quality, LE CLASSEMENT 2009. The only Sancerre producer with the rating!
“Each Sancerre (from Mellot) is at its most elegant: discreetly herbaceous, a beautiful weave of citrus, oak and minerals.” Jacqueline Friedrich, (respected US wine critic based in the Loire).
Alphonse Mellot is the 18th generation of Mellots in Sancerre, the estate having celebrated its 500th anniversary in 2013. But don’t think this continuity has bred complacency or conformity. Their 47 ha of vineyards are farmed meticulously by hand, adhering to biodynamic principles and they’re one of very few estates in Sancerre to still pick by hand. No expense has been spared in the winery.
‘La Moussiere’ is the estate’s largest and most historically significant vineyard, described by some as one the most notable and best-kept vineyards in France.
"La Moussière is the cornerstone of Alphonse Mellot and in its energy and precision it is not only an unmistakable Mellot but also a quality and stylistic level most producers don't reach rudimentarily.” Stephan Reinhardt, The Wine Advocate #215, Oct 2014.
Mellot’s entry level wine is about as far away from The Savalanche as you can get. Mineral driven and chalky, it will age to become more like a white Burgundy. This vintage has only just been released so reviews are limited still. 2014 is considered a stellar year in Sancerre and the previous vintage received a score of 94 from The Wine Advocate.
“2014 is one heck of a vintage at chez Mellot. Those who crave substance, purity and tension in their white wines will be blown away. As usual, 50% of this wine undergoes large-format barrel fermentation - a fact that in no way compromises the fabulous line, elegance and energy - while 50% is raised in traditional concrete vats, before blending. The wines are aged on fine lees for a period of roughly 12 months, further enhancing the wine's famously deep, pulpy texture. The '14 is a flawlessly ripe and vibrant wine, flickering with intense, ripe citrus peel notes that hook you in before waves of energy-rich, layered fruit take over. This texture is balanced by threads of chalky, spicy freshness and a long, saline finish. A great La Moussière.” Bibendum Wine Co.
See what Sauvignon Blanc is capable of.
I can offer it for $67 a bottle. Click here to order