Old World vs New World Sauvignon Blanc
Over the years in the shop I’ve fielded many wine questions, differences between old and new world are often the most common. Are they really any different? Would a Sancerre taste the same as a Marlborough New Zealand? Well, in a word… no.
Ben @winehack – 10 May 2020
Sauvignon Blanc is without doubt one of the most popular grape varieties here in the UK for white wine. Globally, Sauvignon Blanc is planted in over 299,000 acres of vineyard making it the 8th most grown wine grape in the world. Although it originated from France, its crisp, dry and refreshing taste soon made it a tempting option for growers around the world. Surprisingly the grape actually began life in the South West of France and is an essential component of the Sauternes dessert wine. Unlike many grape varieties Sauvignon can be grown successfully in a range of different climates and soil types. This difference in terroir often creates huge differences in the flavours and aromas of the wine depending on where it is grown. This makes it excellent for comparing differences between old and new world wines.
Old World Sauvignon
The most famous old world sauvignon is of course French. Due to complicated way the French label their wines many people may not realise that some of their favourite wines are actually made with this grape. Some of the more popular of these being Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé, Sauvignon de Touraine, Menetou-Salon, Reuilly (from the Loire region) and Entre-Deux-Mers, Graves, Pessac-Léognan (from the Bordeaux region) are all wines made with Sauvignon Blanc. The grape may have originated in the Bordeaux area but by far the most popular region for it is in the Loire valley. For many years the Sauvignons of Bordeaux have been long forgotten in the UK market, the region’s most profitable and notable wines are of course red.
Certainly in the independent sector, there are now more white’s from Bordeaux making a comeback, they tend to be slightly fuller, fruiter and value driven than the Loire counterparts. If you come across one, it’s well worth a punt!
Old World Tasting Notes
Old world Sauvignons are typically of a more reserved character than their new world counterparts. Generally, you would expect a more of a grassy undertone with notes of lime, quince, honeydew melon, chamomile and green apple. It should still be a very vibrant wine however, with plenty of fruit and an edge of minerality. Our Touraine Sauvignon Blanc has these characteristics in abundance and provides for a refreshing and supremely moreish afternoon tipple. Usually these wines are un-oaked but there are a few examples, particularly in Sancerre where some oak ageing is used, although this is to far lesser extent than you would see in a Burgundian Chardonnay for example.
With Sauvignon being such as terroir driven grape, what’s causing these specific characters? If we look at the Loire as the prominent region, we can see that it’s made up of a series of hills and valleys and the whole wine region runs along the river. The soil type is predominantly clay and limestone and the area records a reasonable amount of rainfall, but the slopes of the valley provide excellent drainage so the vines don’t ever become waterlogged. Temperature in the area is largely continentally influenced but averages around 26 degrees in the summer and hits a low of -1 in the winter. This provides a relatively temperate climate with the real warmth coming in the summer season to ripen the grapes and embolden them with their vibrant fruit character.
New World Sauvignon
Many of the ‘New World’ countries produce Sauvignon Blanc, such as the USA, Chile, & Australia, but really the most popular and sought after are those from New Zealand and in particular the Marlborough region.
As winehack regulars will recall from our supermarket Marlborough review, the impetus for the success of Marlborough Sauvignon was the launch of Cloudy Bay in 1985. They had managed to create a Sauvignon with a much more expressive style than the French. Tropical aromas abounded and it became an instant hit. These days, not all Marlborough wines are born equal, as with Pinot Grigio in Italy, the huge growth in demand for these wines has led to a greater and greater level of industrialisation and quality levels are highly variable. Luckily some of the original vineyards as well as smaller artisan ones remain and still produce exceptional quality vibrant wine. Our own Hunter’s New Zealand Sauvignon is one of them. Founded by Jane Hunter OBE at the same time as Cloudy Bay, they are in fact next door neighbours! The 2019 vintage was harvested in April 2019 and has received a number of awards
New World Tasting Notes
Generally speaking, the new world wines have a more profound nose that’s distinctly tropical, particularly those from New Zealand. You can expect gooseberry and passion fruit in abundance. You’re also likely to get some grapefruit and maybe even some peach in there. This is on top of the green and grassy freshness associated with the grape. Although it’s a dry wine it will often have slightly sweeter notes than the old world versions with an even more piercing acidity. This gives it a super clean and fresh finish that’s unlike many other wines.
The key to the piercing fruit intensity and acidity it largely down to the climate. Long warm and sunny days are compounded with more temperate nights. The ripening period here is longer than in France but mountainous regions protect the vines from excesses of the wind and rain. The soil tends to be glacial and free draining, and extensive river systems have deposited a layered system with sandy loam over a deep bed of stone gravel. The excellent drainage makes the vines work harder for water and this leads to a stronger more intensely flavoured grape. Of course, on top of climatic and geological differences, the attitudes of the winemakers here are different too. Production methods vary greatly and the younger winemakers are working hard to make sure their wines are different from the old world, as they strive to make something new.
So Which Is Better?
Traditionalists would certainly laugh at the question, to some French Sauvignon is the real expression of the grape. But inevitably, there are both good and bad examples from each area. Overproduction in NZ has led to some cheap versions that don’t do justice to the grape, and at the very lowest end it can mean you do tend to get what you pay for. Here at winehack we are very pleased to be able to provide some excellent examples of both old and new world Sauvignon.
For those who would rather pick something up during their weekly shop, our blind tasting supermarket wine review of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc found the Waitrose Villa Maria to offer the best value against other supermarket wines we tasted and that retails at £10.99.
Tasting the different regions head to head is certainly a great way to get used to the different styles and discovering what sort of wine you most love!