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Soil Makes a Difference When It Comes to Sauvignon Blanc

by The Wine Guys, Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr

There is probably no other wine that varies in style as much as sauvignon blanc. Rarely influenced by oak-barrel fermentation, it is a wine that it expressed naturally by soil and climate. Without intervention, its flavor profile stretches from the herbaceous, tart style of New Zealand to the fruit-driven version from California to the mineral based wines of Pouilly-Fume. Not surprisingly, each region has its fans and each its critics.

These stark differences came out during a recent virtual tasting of five sauvignon blancs from different regions: California, New Zealand, France, Italy and South Africa.

Daniele Vuerich, winemaker at Attems in the Fruili Venezia Giulia region of northeast Italy, said he sees the difference soil can make in his sauvignon blanc. One vineyard is made of sand and pebbles which gives a crisp, green note to the wine while a second vineyard with sandstone provides concentration and intensity.

For Nikolai St. George, winemaker at Cloudy Bay in Marborough, yeast is important to coax out the grape variety’s aromas and flavors.

“When you press the juice, you get herbal flavors. They are locked in there and need to be released,” he said. The natural, wild yeasts start that process, he added.

Here are the wines we tasted:

Representing the U.S.: The 2020 La Crema Sauvignon Blanc ($25), only in its second vintage, is fruit driven with pronounced nectarine and tropical fruit notes. A little barrel fermentation gives it greater texture and less brisk acidity than the austere sauvignon blanc from other regions. If you like your sauvignon blanc with more weight and richness, California sauvignon blanc is for you.

Representing Italy: The 2019 Attems Sauvignon Blanc ($19) has a distinctive mineral note we found beguiling. Good concentration and intense aromas with green and pear notes with a bit of pineapple. Vuerich credits the blend of two different soil types – sandstone and sand – for the concentration. From the house of Marchesi Frescobaldi, this wine is for those who want full body and mineral.

Representing South Africa: The 2019 Neil Ellis Wines Groenekloff Sauvignon Blanc ($20) comes from 35-year-old bush vines and surely that has a lot to do with the tropical fruit and peach flavors. If you like your sauvignon blanc with less of the New Zealand herbaceous notes and more tropical fruit, you’ll like this region.

Representing New Zealand: The venerable 2020 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc ($35) continues to win awards, a track record that winemaker St. George credits to its consistency. He said he is less focused on aromatics and more on texture. If you like your sauvignon blanc with bright acidity, citrus aromas, zesty and herbal flavors, New Zealand has your number.

St. George gave us insight into why New Zealand winemakers have embraced screw-tops.

He said, “Corks spend a long time getting to New Zealand and they are not the quality they should be. We got sick of getting corks of low quality and taint. And when a (cork-finished) bottle goes back across the equator, it can lose 40 percent of its aromatics. Stelvin (screw caps) decreases that loss.”

Representing France: The 2018 Ladoucette Pouilly-Fume ($45) from Maisons Marques & Domaines is an excellent representative of that Old World style. It has more delicacy than those from New Zealand and California. Elegant and rich, it has apple/grassy aromas and complex citrus and mineral flavors. If you like your sauvignon understated, textured and complex, try wines from the Loire.

Not in the lineup but equally noteworthy are the sauvignon blancs from Chile and Bordeaux. The wines from the Casablanca region of Chile are particularly good with lime and herbal notes.

We love the blends from Graves, a subregion of Bordeaux, because of the heavy dose of semillon. This grape variety tames the natural herbaceous character and acidity of the grape and adds tremendous richness and texture.

Here are other sauvignon blancs we have recently tasted:

  • Chateau Granville-Lacoste Graves 2019 ($16). This delicious wine has 75 percent semillon, so it’s hardly a sauvignon blanc. But zesty, tropical fruit flavors make it worth discovering.

  • Chateau Ducasse Bordeaux Blanc 2019 ($17). Luscious, bone dry and luxurious with tropical and passion fruit flavors. Semillon accounts for 60 percent of the blend.

  • Gerard Bertrand Change Sauvignon 2020 ($15). The limestone soil here gives this biodynamically and organically farmed sauvignon good acidity. Citrus and grapefruit notes. Ten percent is aged in oak to round it off.

  • Les Légende Bordeaux Blanc 2019 ($20). Blended with semillon, this classic white Bordeaux has elegance with white fruit flavors and crisp acidity. It is part of the Lafite-Rothschild collection.

  • St. Supery Dollarhide Estate Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($38). This pure and unadulterated sauvignon blanc has oodles of citrus, anise and pear aromas with varietal grapefruit flavors. Big in style, it delivers more than your typical sauvignon blanc.

  • Chalk Hill Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($33). This estate has been producing consistent sauvignon blanc for years. With a bit of sauvignon gris in the blend and light oak barrel fermentation and aging, it has more complexity and richness than most sauvignon blanc. Tropical fruit notes.

  • Dixie & Bass Sauvignon Blanc Horse Heaven Hills 2019 ($18). From Washington state, this exuberant sauvignon blanc shows off crisp acidity with herbal aromas and varietal grapefruit, citrus flavors.

  • Mt. Beautiful North Canterbury Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($20). Citrus notes without the big grapefruit blast, passion fruit and some herbal elements highlight this New Zealand wine from the South Island. North Canterbury enjoys a moderate maritime climate due to the protection of an Alp like mountain range to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east.

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