3 Different styles of Sauvignon Blanc

Different styles of Sauvignon Blanc

No matter what its style, a Sauvignon Blanc will always be dry and fresh with bright citrus flavors and little to no oak-aging. It’s a light white wine that has great acidity, which is what makes it so easy to drink. It’s perfect for sipping on warm summer evenings, or pairing with fresh food like oysters, sushi, salad or even pasta dishes. The thing most people aren’t aware of is Sauvignon Blanc actually comes in several different styles.

Wines from New Zealand tend to be more forward and have tropical fruit and gooseberry notes in their flavor profile and aromatics. Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire Valley in France traditionally have more minerality to them. They’re well-balanced, with lemon and citrus notes. Last but not least, Sauvignon Blanc from the Bordeaux region is often blended with the Sémillon grape and can be aged in oak. This gives the wine a richer texture and softens its acidity.

What defines the three major styles of Sauvignon Blanc

All types of Sauvignon Blanc will be crisp, dry white wines that are light to medium in body with a backbone of citrus flavors.

  1. New Zealand style. Expect bold flavors that hit you as soon as you lift the glass to your nose. Wines made in this style have more intensity to their flavors and aromas. You’ll find gooseberry notes and tropical fruit like passion fruit, grapefruit, mango, lemon and lime. These wines are best when you drink them young, in the first 3-5 years.
  2. Loire Valley style. This is a more subdued and balanced style of Sauvignon Blanc. You’ll taste intense lemon flavors with vibrant acidity and more minerality. By minerality we mean you’ll be tasting elements from the terroir, or the land the vineyards were planted on.
  3. Bordeaux style. The traditional style in Bordeaux is to blend Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon where a certain percentage of the wine is then aged in oak.
All Sauvignon Blanc styles are dry white wines with a backbone of lemon and citrus flavors
Gooseberry notes and tropical fruit are common flavors found in Sauvignon Blancs from Marlborough New Zealand

How do you know which style you’re getting?

Chile tends to follow the Loire Valley style, as does South Africa and Australia. Italy does their own thing but their wines are more reminiscent of Loire Sauvignon Blancs too.

When it comes to California, winemakers usually follow one of the two French styles. Wines that are less expensive tend to be in the lighter Loire style with lemon, grapefruit, peach and a characteristic grassy taste. In Napa, they’re more likely to go for a Bordeaux chateau blend. Note, California winemakers don’t use quite as much Sémillon as they do in France, but by law they can add up to 20%.

More about the Sauvignon Blanc grape

The Sauvignon Blanc grape is a light green color. It doesn’t like intense heat and does well in different soil types, picking up characteristics from the local terroir. While it originated in France, this grape will grow with abandon in many different climates. Maybe that’s where some of the wilder notes in its flavor profile come from, think grass, hay, and green tea. This is in addition to the lemon, lime and grapefruit flavors, tropical fruit, stone-fruit and mineral/gunflint hints you can find in certain wines. Note, Sauvignon Blanc grapes are also high in acidity.

French Wine Fact: Sauvignon Blanc is actually one of the parent grapes, along with Cabernet Franc, of the red wine Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s where the “Sauvignon” comes from in the grape name!

White wines from Marlborough have intense tropical fruit like grapefruit, passion fruit, lemon and lime
A glass of white wine from the Loire Valley will be more balanced and have intense lemon notes and vibrant acidity

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

Before the 1970s, New Zealand didn’t really make much wine. But that all changed when Sauvignon Blanc grapes were first introduced to the Marlborough area in 1973. New Zealand gets more sunshine than most wine growing regions and they have a long growing season. It’s no surprise the grapes thrived here and as early as the mid 80s their wines started gaining international attention. However, it wasn’t until the early 2000s that they really took off stateside. And now that they’re here, we can’t get enough! 

The best Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand come from Marlborough, which has three sub regions, Wairau Valley, Awatere Valley and Southern Valleys. Marlborough is a hilly region interspersed with plains and river valleys, on the northern part of the south island. It borders the ocean so it has a maritime climate. Days are warm and nights are cool and they don’t just grow white grapes here. The Marlborough region is fast becoming a major producer of the highly sought after red wine Pinot Noir.

But back to their whites. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is typically a loud and intense expression of the grape that reflects both the sunny climate and the hearty and adventure-loving nature of the winemakers who produce it. These wines are known for their tropical and sometimes herbaceous grassy flavors, and in particular, their gooseberry notes. If you haven’t come across a gooseberry before, it’s a grape sized berry that can be either red or green (the green ones tend to be more on the sour side and the ripe red ones are sweet). 

Producers to look for include Oyster Bay, Giesen, Matua Valley, Mahua, Starborough, Whitehaven, Wither Hills, and Cloudy Bay which was one of the very first wineries in Marlborough. Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs are a great value, with prices ranging from just $13-30 a bottle. They’re easy to find by the glass in most bars and restaurants and will work well with lighter food and appetizers.

Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc

Loire Sauvignon Blancs tend to be quite popular and on the expensive side. This is where the Sauvignon Blanc grape originally comes from and you’ll find more small, family-owned domaines making wines that can have stone-fruit, like peach and nectarine, and mineral notes, as well as lemon. Certain areas are known for producing wine that has an almost smoky or stony taste to it.

French Wine Fact: The Loire River in France flows from east to west with wine growing regions stretching from Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, to Orléans, Tours and Nantes, near the Atlantic coast. In addition to Sauvignon Blanc vineyards, they also grow Chenin Blanc and Melon B grapes in the Loire Valley (for a good French red from the region, try Chinon).

Sancerre is a popular white wine that comes from the Loire Valley in France, it’s Sauvignon Blanc but named after the region where it’s produced

Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Reuilly and Menetou-Salon

In France, a wine gets its name from the region where it comes from, not its grape. This means you won’t see Sauvignon Blanc front and center on the label, but rather one of these four towns:

  • Sancerre. Sancerre is one of the most sought after white wines in America right now. The area it comes from around the town of Sancerre has three different soil types. You can find wine that’s a blend of grapes grown in different areas or single-vineyard estate wines with unique characteristics, such as heightened aromatics, bigger and more powerful fruit, and more tongue on stone with gunflint. The region is made up of mostly smaller production domains and this area of France is sometimes compromised by bad weather (which can lead to major losses in certain vintages and higher prices based on supply and demand). Learn more about Sancerre in this article.
  • Pouilly-Fumé. This area is on the opposite river bank, facing Sancerre and it has soil that’s known to be quite clay-based with flint deposits. This gives the wine a smoky aroma and is why it’s called Pouilly-Fumé, with fumé meaning smoke in French. Pouilly-Fumé saw a big rise in popularity in the 1970s and 1980s and is why some California winemakers, including Robert Mondavi, named their Sauvignon Blancs Fumé Blanc.
  • Reuilly. This is a lesser known region in France and consequently, bottles might be slightly harder to come by. You’ll likely have to order one in from your local fine wine shop. It’s worth doing though because these are beautiful, lighter-bodied wines. They’re crisp, bone-dry and have good acidity and minerality. They’re also perfect with raw vegetables, fresh food, like salads, and oysters!
  • Menetou-Salon. This is another area that is quite similar in geography to Sancerre. The wines are not quite as big or forward but tend to be good value at $20+ a bottle.

Bordeaux

Sémillon is a white varietal, often planted in Bordeaux, that’s used to make a sweet dessert wine called Sauterne. Adding it to Sauvignon Blanc helps to balance out the tartness of the wine, giving it texture and allowing the wine to age for longer. A Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux might be an oak-aged blend. However, you can also find wine from this region that’s characterized by minerality and green fruit.

Graves

Graves is a growing area on the left bank of the Garonne river, in the southern part of Bordeaux. Its name means gravel in French, which tells you something about the soil. Graves is known for both its red and white wines, including its Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon blends. Their white wines often have oak-aging and are longer lived than most other Sauvignon Blanc based wines. A Sauvignon Blanc from Graves could be called Graves or Pessac-Léognan.

Bordeaux Blancs, Entre-Deux-Mers

You’ll also see Bordeaux Blancs from the larger region which are predominantly Sauvignon Blanc, but may be called by the name of the chateau that produces the wine. Another region to look for is Entre-Deux-Mers where they make mostly dry white wines that are often Sauvignon Blanc blends.

California sometimes makes Bordeaux style blends of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, particularly in Napa Valley. Their wines are often associated with grassy notes

Sauvignon Blancs from California

California started growing Sauvignon Blanc back in the 1970s and 80s, led in part by Duckhorn and Robert Mondavi. Their wines vary and can be in either French style. For example, Frog’s Leap makes a Sancerre-style wine, whereas Spottswoode and Duckhorn have more of a Bordeaux blend. One thing you find a lot of in both styles is grass and hay in the flavor profile and aromatics.

California has an interesting climate. It may be hot during the day but can really cool off at night, which the Sauvignon Blanc grapes like. If you prefer more citrus-driven styles of this wine, Dry Creek and Alexander Valley in Sonoma make excellent Sauvignon Blancs, as do the Lake District and Mendocino County. These wines might sell for $12-20 a bottle.

Napa Valley

They make Sauvignon Blanc in Napa too. Wine from Napa is more likely to be a blend that’s partially aged in oak and it can be higher in alcohol because of hotter growing conditions. It’s likely to be a rounded wine, with more body and softer acidity. Napa wines tend to fall in the $30-50 range.

They make Sauvignon Blanc wine in different styles in different regions

Other regions

Sauvignon Blanc from Chile

They make beautiful unoaked Sauvignon Blanc in Chile, particularly in coastal areas where the climate is slightly cooler. You’ll taste lively citrus flavors, including grapefruit and lime, along with stone-fruit and melon aromatics. Try a wine from the Casablanca Valley for a bright and refreshing white with vibrant acidity. Expect to pay anywhere from $10-30.

Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa, Australia and Germany

Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa tends to be grown along the coast or in the south where the climate is more suitable. It’s typically made in the Loire style but you can find some blends with Sauvignon Gris or Vert (these grapes are both mutations of Sauvignon Blanc and they’re grown in California too). Certain wineries are producing Sémillon blends for a white wine that’s a bit richer and can age for longer. Expect intense citrus flavors, hints of cut grass, gooseberries and green apple, along with pungent aromatics. Wine from South Africa is a good value at just $15-30 a bottle.

If you’re buying a Sauvignon Blanc from Australia, it’s best to get a wine from the Adelaide area or Margaret River. It’s not Australia’s main white wine, that honor belongs to Chardonnay, but Sauvignon Blanc is becoming more prevalent. In Germany, this wine is just getting started. However, there are a lot of new winemakers planting vineyards, so keep your eye out for their wines!

Italy makes Sauvignon Blanc too!

Italy produces a number of delicious dry white wines and Sauvignon Blanc is one of them. The best Sauvignon Blanc comes from the northern regions of Alto Adige and Friuli, in particular the Colio area. These wines are bone-dry and known to have pure citrus flavors with good minerality. If what you’re tasting doesn’t quite match up with what you’re smelling, be aware some wines have an unusual nose that can be described as cat-pee aromatics!

Food pairings

Sauvignon Blanc is a versatile white wine which is one reason why you’ll find it by the glass on most restaurant wine lists. You can drink it on its own or pair it with different kinds of food, especially seafood. Have a glass with grilled shrimp or a nice piece of halibut. The really tropical New Zealand wines best complement vegan and vegetarian dishes, along with Asian food and any meal cooked in bold exotic spices. If you’re getting take out sushi, pick up a Loire-style wine. It will pair beautifully with raw shellfish, oysters included. And when it comes to a Bordeaux-style wine, especially a Sauvignon Blanc from Napa that has seen oak aging, you can serve it with roast pork, a veal dish or even lamb. These wines are generally bigger and have rounder flavors so they can go with food like smoked meats and cheese charcuterie boards too.

  • Grape or wine profile
author

Freddy is a retired wine professional and wine educator who was Vice President of the sixth largest wine importer and wholesaler in the United States for over 40 years. He currently works as a wine consultant and collaborates with his daughter to write articles that help people learn about wine.

Brian Keeping
Reviewer

Brian Keeping

Brian is an avid wine enthusiast and wine educator who has spent 45+ years in the fine wine industry. From 1975 to 1994 he was part owner and sales director of Silenus Wines and from 1994 to 2021 served as Fine Wine Director at Carolina Wines & Spirits.

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