Sauvignon blanc across the spectrum

I spent a week last month in the Loire Valley, and had a chance to taste a good number of sauvignon blancs. It’s the white grape of Sancerre, one of the few Loire appellations that’s widely known (the other is Muscadet), and also an important variety in less-known Loire regions like Touraine, Pouilly, and Menetou-Salon.
Outside the Loire Valley, sauvignon is important in Bordeaux and grows in parts of southern France.

At almost all my tastings, someone pointed out that sauvignons from the Loire were not like New Zealand sauvignons — not big, full-throttle sauvignons like those from Marlborough, but more measured, low-key and balanced, and overall better suited to food. It’s a fair point, but somewhere within it, there’s a hint of grievance that this great grape variety, which has grown in the Loire for centuries, has been co-opted by

New Zealand and turned into a star. (Cahors, in southwest France, feels the same way about Argentina’s success with their native grape, malbec.)
Of course, there’s room at the table for more than one style of any grape variety. Look at the spectrum of syrahs/shirazes, the variety of merlots, the range of chardonnays. Sauvignon blanc is no different, and it’s interesting to try them from different regions to see what effect growing conditions and winemaking have.

There are many sauvignons in the LCBO and private retail stores, and I’ve chosen four today, each from a different country, in case you want to do a comparative tasting and see how they go with whatever food you’re serving up in the next few days.

Although there are certainly differences in quality among the quartet, the styles also vary widely. Is one of them the “right” style? I don’t think so. Although many wine professionals look for “typicity” in wine (that is, they have a benchmark style they measure all wines of a particular variety against), I think that puts wine in a straightjacket.

The two current benchmarks for sauvignon are Sancerre and Marlborough, but when the big, brash Marlborough style first appeared, it was criticized because it wasn’t like Sancerre.

Wine should be judged for what it is and where it comes from, and if you look at sauvignon that way, you’ll find that there are many excellent styles. Some are high in acid, others merely crisp. Some are made in stainless steel to preserve fruit purity, some get more texture from time in a barrel. Some are in-your-face with their fruit, others whisper in your ear.

There’s not exactly a world of sauvignon out there, but there are lots of them, so test-drive a couple this weekend.

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Sue Hodder, winemaker at the iconic Wynns winery in Australia’s Coonawarra region, will lead a tasting of her wines on Tuesday, June 19, at the Empire Grill, 47 Clarence St. Reception, 6-6:45 p.m.; sit-down tasting, 6:45-8 p.m.; and tapas with wines, 8-9 p.m. Tickets ($65, plus booking fee and taxes): wynnsottawa.eventbrite.ca/

Remy Pannier Sauvignon Blanc 2010
From the Touraine region of the Loire Valley, this serves up attractive flavours that are consistent from start to finish, paired with crisp and clean acidity. It’s a great choice for a warm goat cheese salad or grilled white fish. 12-per-cent alcohol; $12.95 (68676)
Adobe Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2011
An organic wine from Chile’s cool Casablanca Valley, this medium-bodied sauvignon shows concentrated, austere flavours and refreshing acidity. Drink it with lemon-drizzled fish (with or without chips) or grilled seafood. 12-per-cent alcohol; $12.95 (266049)
Waka Waka Sauvignon Blanc 2011
This sauvignon, from the Paarl region of South Africa, delivers very solid and quite complex fruit flavours, all harnessed to a seam of bright acidity that sets you up for food. Try it with fish or seafood or medium curries. 13-per-cent alcohol; $12.95 (266494)
Saint Clair Vicar’s Choice Sauvignon Blanc 2011
The vicar (in the name) has good taste. This Marlborough sauvignon shows the big pungent flavours associated with the New Zealand style, with dense and bracing acidity. It’s great with freshly shucked oysters and seafood. 13-per-cent alcohol; $15.95 (237255)

Email Rod Phillips at rod@rodphillipsonwine.com. Join him online Thursdays at 2 p.m. at ottawacitizen.com/winechat, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/rodphillipswine.

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