Sauvignon: ‘the grape that wine snobs cannot bear’

Name-dropping wine lovers may loathe Sauvignon Blanc, but it’s just as important as highbrow Pinot Noir, according to Oz Clarke.


Sauvignon Blanc is the grape variety that wine snobs cannot bare, according to broadcaster Oz Clarke. Picture credit:

The opinion was expressed by the British wine writer and broadcaster at this month’s International Sauvignon Blanc Celebration in New Zealand, which followed the Central Otago Pinot Celebration, which Clarke had also attended.

“Sauvignon Blanc is the grape variety that wine snobs cannot bear,” he began, when addressing the 300 delegates at the three-day Sauvignon event in Marlborough at the start February.

“But Sauvignon Blanc is just as important as Pinot Noir in terms of giving pleasure to countless millions of wine drinkers around the world,” he stated.

Indeed, he said that Sauvignon was “more important” than Pinot for people with “little wine knowledge” who could “revel in the sheer delight of this lovely affordable drink.”

Continuing the comparison between the two grapes, Clarke commented, “Pinot Noir is about exercising the intellectual talents of winemakers… it is a self-absorbing obsessive world with a lot of debate, and not enough laughter, but Sauvignon Blanc is not that kind of grape: the best Sauvignon doesn’t have to be expensive; it doesn’t have to be made in intellectually exhausting way; it doesn’t have to be difficult to understand.”

For Clarke, “If the first mouthful [of Sauvignon] doesn’t bring a smile and encourage a second gulp then it’s not doing its job properly; its job is to amuse, encourage wit and laughter – and not to invite a discussion on the minutiae about the way it was made.”

While red winemakers are on an “endless hunt for that extra dimension of flavour or texture to entice wine connoisseurs,” said Clarke, when it comes to Sauvignon Blanc, “One of its greatest strengths is its beguiling simplicity”.

Notably, Clarke also said that Sauvignon Blanc was rare in its ability to encourage the wine world to glorify greenness – which is usually declared a weakness.

“Sauvignon’s greatest appeal lies in its slightly under-ripe citrus flavours in world gone mad for ripeness and even over-ripeness.”

Concluding, he said, “Sauvignon Blanc revels in the cool side; the green side.”

The International Sauvignon Blanc Celebration comprised a three-day event from 1-3 February designed to explore the stylistic diversity of wines made from the grape. Other speakers included wine writers Robert Joseph and Matt Kramer, who also considered the characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc, and praised the variety for its popular and distinctive nature, as well as its dependability.

11 Responses to “Sauvignon: ‘the grape that wine snobs cannot bear’”

  1. Well said Oz. Would winemakers please stop being embarrassed for producing the world’s best Sauvignon Blanc and would wine snobs just drink what they appreciate and stop putting down others for enjoying something they don’t.

  2. Richard Smart says:

    Bravo Oz!
    Sauvignon Blanc wine is distinctive and recognisable, allowing many wine drinkers to feel like “experts”, though they may not be. Is this a bad thing?

  3. Gordon says:

    Fair comment, Oz. Not everyone wants an intellectual challenge when supping a glass! However, I would point out that some Sauvignon Blancs (e.g. from Friuli) have bags of flavours to interest wine lovers/

  4. Paul says:

    I’ve never been able to ‘bare’ any grape! Was that predictive text or spellcheck? Either way very lazy journalism.

    • Neal Baker says:

      Hi Paul,
      You’ll notice that the headline has been changed in the story, and was changed just minutes after the story was posted. Do not equate “lazy journalism” with a simple spelling mistake. If anything, that’s a “lazy” accusation to make.

  5. Oz has been a Sauvignon Blanc fans for years. I remember him at a Napa Valley Vintners tasting in London in the 1990’s savoring a taste of St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc I’d offered and noting with satisfaction that it was done right — at a time when most Californians were still a bit afraid of the variety’s raciness. Kudos to winemaker Michael Scholz, and thanks to Oz for his appreciation.

  6. Jeff Hinchliffe says:

    I would argue that Pinot noir is is also distinctive and easily recognizable. Assuming your premise is true, SB’s distinctiveness would not be the reason for it’s disdain. Why then? The primary reason is that Sauvignon, in the right sites ,scales to volume without peer. This runs smack into Pinot’s perceived inability to scale , which offers the opportunity to sell scarcity , a pillar of snobbery.

  7. Peter says:

    Sauvignon Blanc (especially the more overt styles) is to wine what Hollywood is to film. Afficianados inevitably find the plot lines too obvious, the less obsesses wine drinkers just enjoy the entertainment.

  8. Hardie Mananyi says:

    I’ve been waiting for this for years! Sauvignon is too extracted especially in NZ, I was there three days ago. Look at Australian Chardonnay (A.B.C anything but Chardonnay these days), the bottom has fallen out of the market because it reached a peak, producers gave too much of a style to exploit the international taste market, people don’t want that much anymore, so maybe we need to find wine with finesse again. Didier Dagueneau must be spinning in his grave.
    I’ve been a sommelier for 20 years and I think a lot of you are idiots, get over yourselves and enjoy wine, don’t drink generic stuff then have the cheek to complain when it’s not in fashion anymore.

  9. Richard Warland says:

    I will never forget the late lamented Len Evans, in his role as Chairman of Judges at the Royal Sydney Wine Show, declaring at the luncheon following that show, something of the order of “Sauvignon Blanc will never be seen as a great wine”

  10. Ray Krause says:

    Et Tu Bordeaux Blanc?

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