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A Grape By Any Other Name

By Robert Paul.

So, what’s in a wine’s name or should we say “Sancerrely Folks?”

Should wine from the sauvignon blanc grape be called Sancerre, white Bordeaux, sauvignon blanc, blanc fumé, fumé blanc, pouilly fumé? The answer is, all of the above.

The flavors of the sauvignon blanc grape, which is usually vinified in stainless steel or neutral wooden casks, include mineral, grassy or herbaceous, citrus, melon, gooseberry, or even floral. Most of these wines
pair well with goat cheese, salads, most seafood, or as an apertif. Among the more appealing Sancerres are those produced by Lucien Crochet and Domaine Vacheron ($20-$28).

Sancerre is a French appellation consisting of 14 villages at the eastern end of the Loire Valley, west of the Loire River. A generation ago, the sauvignon blanc grape and the region were synonymous. But since then, New Zealand’s sauvignon blancs have become the most recognized in the United States and the production of wines from this grape have increased considerably in the Americas, South Africa and other locales.

Part of this increased demand is fueled by the Americans search for a white wine to pair with their menus and the failure of oaked chardonnays to serve that purpose. So, the trendiness of Pinot (Gris) Grigios, Rieslings, Gewürztraminer, Viogniers, and other white wines reflects a search for that perfect food pairing. The winner so far has been sauvignon blanc.

Two of the more dependable New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are produced by Villa Maria and Kim Crawford ($12-$16). The former is typically named New Zealand’s “Wine Company of the Year” and produces a variety of well crafted and fairly-priced wines, all sealed with screwcaps; while the latter operates in much the manner of a good French negociant, purchasing wine lots and crafting dependable and consistent wines.

What about fumé? The term refers to “smoked,” and has two different explanations. First, mature sauvignon blanc grapes are usually covered with a grey bloom which gives them a smokey appearance. Alternatively, in Sancerre at least, the vineyards are noted for a certain smokey aroma that is compared to flints being rubbed together. Pouilly-Fumé (not to be confused with Pouilly-Fuissé which is vinted from chardonnay grapes in Burgundy) comes from four communes on the opposite side of the Loire River from Sancerre.

In contrast, Fumé Blanc was a name devised by Robert Mondavi as a successful marketing device for sauvignon blanc which was, at the time in the late 1960’s, out of favor. At present, I have two examples in my wine cellar, Ferrari-Carano and Dry Creek ($12-$15) both of which are good examples of the American approach to this grape.

All of which is to say that a satisfying sauvignon blanc wine by whatever name you prefer would taste as fine.

Flavors And More Magazine – October 2009

One Response to “A Grape By Any Other Name”

  1. Constance says:

    I love Sancerre. I love Pouill-Fume, I love white Bordeaux and I love wines called Sauvignon Blanc. However, despite my love for this versatile grape, it would be foolish to say that most of these styles are comparable. Yes, when it comes down the basics, Sauvignon Blanc has crisp, dry acidity, high acid, a lot of citrus — but despite this similarity, I much prefer a Sancerre or a Pouilly-Fume to a Californian Sauvignon Blanc or even a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
    In the case of this grape – there is no question of climate and terroir influence.

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