There is no better time to gauge the quality and stylistic range of Sauvignon Blanc than during the only international wine competition devoted solely to the variety: the Concours Mondial du Sauvignon, which unfolded in Touraine, France, in early March.
While the lion’s share of the wines hail from France, Austria, and Italy, 21 other countries are also represented at the Concours, making it a one-stop shop for Sauvignon Blanc from lesser-known regions as well as world-famous ones.
For example, California made a strong showing, as did Central and Eastern Europe made a showing with wines from Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia—a small number of which received awards. All in all, entries from 15 countries merited recognition from myself and 73 fellow jury members.
Successfully identifying the origin of a Sauvignon Blanc requires relying on a full arsenal of sensory information related to aroma, flavor, texture, temperature, structure. The terpenes and thiols that the grape contains as a result of picking decisions and winemaking choices make for very distinct, pronounced aromas. But as Nick Jackson, MW, points out in his recently released reference guide Beyond Flavour: The Indispensable Handbook to Blind Wine Tasting, a blind taster must look beyond the obvious to succeed in making the right call.
Jackson characterizes Sauvignon Blanc by its acidity, describing it as spiky or jagged so as to seemingly prick the inside of the mouth. He makes one exception for high-quality Loire Valley wines, which represented almost 40% of the 1,110 wines that appeared at the Concours. “Top-quality Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé with limited yields tend to smooth out the rough edges of this rather aggressive acidity and make the wine more mellow,” he writes.
In addressing the wines of the Loire Valley, Bordeaux, New Zealand, Chile, and the U.S., Jackson notes that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to generalize about style; climate change and copycat winemaking are blurring the distinctions of what were once regional benchmarks, forcing bodied like the Institute of Masters of Wine to re-evaluate their blind-tasting exams.
That said, wines from the Loire receive praise for being chalky and flinty, while Bordeaux is described as “becoming a little ‘sweaty’-smelling quite easily.” His characterization of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc was plainly demonstrated in a flight I tasted during the competition: The wines showed hard acids, overt pyrazines, and restrained citrus.
At the top of my own list of Sauvignon Blanc–producing regions, meanwhile, is Südsteiermark, Austria. With luscious ripe fruit, mineral expressiveness, and finesse, its wines are not to be missed.