The Sauvignon Blanc grape probably originated in the Bordeaux region where it is almost always blended with Semillon and Muscadelle, in dry white Graves or sweet botritysed Sauternes and Barsacs. My favourite versions are the mono-varietal whites crafted from fruit grown on the flint soils of Pouilly Fume and Sancerre in the Loire Valley. These wines used to be for vinous grown-ups with high acidity and agressive character (“cat’s pee on a gooseberry bush”) and I loved them that way. They featured grass or hay aromas with grapefruit pith or gooseberry fruit and the trademark “struck flint” (pungent mineral and elegant smoke) aromas. A sip was like an intra-oral squeegee, cleansing the palate and whetting your appetite for your next bite of rich fish or seafood.
New Zealand Sauv Blancs were just a gleam in antipodean winemakers’ eyes until the mid-1980s, but their popularity grew like topsy. Their”easier drinking” style has a lot to do with it. NZ Sauv Blanc is richer and softer, replacing the green weediness with green beaniness and asparagus with riper fruit characters.
Chacun a son gout, and best wishes to producers vinifying in this style. The bad news is that producers in the Loire, who love a buck as much as anyone else, have allowed their Sauv Blancs to drift south. To my palate, this has resulted in unwelcome levels of fat and vegetables and the sad attenuation of those lovely stinky mineral notes.
Some Sancerres and Pouilly Fumes have stayed relatively true to their school. One example is Langlois-Chateau Sancerre Chateau de Fontaine-Audon Terroir Silex. (The house is owned by Champagne giant Bollinger.) We had a bottle of the 2011 ($23, score 90) the other night, and it was beautiful. The wine is pale straw colour with a rich but restrained nose of sweet mown grass and weeds with lemon fruit and nuanced minerality. In the mouth it was bone dry and crisply acidic with that sweet green quality and lemon fruit through a long rich (but fresh) finish.
We paired the Sancerre with pickerel, which has become blessedly easy to find over the last few years. The Queen of Cuisine scored the skin, dredged the filets in flower seasoned with salt and pepper and “pan seared” (the new term for “fried) them in canola oil and butter, skin-side down for five minutes and meat-side down for another two. The pair worked like a champion ice dancing team.