Dr Goode reminds London of Loire Sauvignon character and quality

If anyone had overlooked the quality of Loire Sauvignon Blanc, Dr Jamie Goode provided a timely reminder at his masterclass.

Loire-TastingSUCH IS the success of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc in the UK market, there’s always a danger those in the British wine trade will overlook the home of this distinctive grape, which is, of course, the Loire.

But a masterclass on Loire Sauvignon in London in September, conducted by Dr Jamie Goode reminded the mix of merchants and sommeliers of the quality, diversity and value on offer in this wine region, stretched out along the France’s longest river.

And the reminder could prove particularly important in 2013. This is because prices of Marlborough Sauvignon are on the up in Britain as supply diminishes due to increasing global demand. Indeed, it’s a stated aim of the New Zealand Winegrowers to concentrate on the US and Asia, not the deal-hungry UK, because the former markets are deemed more profitable.
But this turn of events could benefit Loire Sauvignon due to the fact that there is an opportunity for this French region’s whites to re-assert themselves on Britain’s shelves at prices once occupied by their New World competition.

Dr Jaime Goode

Dr Jaime Goode

The question remains: where should the UK trade look for the best examples? Among the many sources of top quality Sauvignon in the Loire, Goode believes that those from Touraine offer an increasingly good value and high quality alternative for UK drinkers priced out of the market for Marlborough. “New Zealand is looking to exploit more profitable markets and that means that now is a brilliant moment for Touraine, because some of the Sauvignons from the region are on the shelves at £8, and they are fantastic,” he commented.

Continuing he said, “The sweet spot for Touraine is £6-10, and that’s a price band New Zealand is rapidly heading out of.”

But what is it about Sauvignon that makes it so appealing? Goode, who is author of the newly published Science of Sauvignon Blanc, used the masterclass to briefly and clearly consider the nature of this widely-planted grape. Reminding attendees of the variety’s global spread, he noted that there are 98,000 hectares of Sauvignon, more than planted to Pinot Noir internationally. Of that total, over 26,000ha are found in France, the largest producer of Sauvignon worldwide, followed by New Zealand, with a little more than 16,000ha, and then South Africa with less than 10,000ha (see table p71). Within France, it is the Loire that has the most Sauvignon Blanc in the ground, with 8,100ha, more than either the Languedoc or Bordeaux, which each have around 6,100ha.

Goode also delved into the complex issue of aroma compounds and their role in Sauvignon’s character – essentially attempting to unearth the reasons for its popularity. “There are 20 aromatic chemicals found in all wines which make global wine odour – these are the chemicals which make wine smell of wine,” he began. Of these, one is present in the grapes called B-damascenone, while the others are produced by the metabolism of yeasts, according to Goode.

In other words, fermentation processes are dominant in creating wine’s flavour, and hence the importance of winemaking approaches for the exact character of Sauvignon, including the selection of yeast strain.

But Goode then went on to point out that there a further 16 compounds which are present in most wines at low levels – often below human detection levels – and which work together to affect the aromatic expression of other compounds. “This is what makes wine flavour chemistry so complicated,” he stated.

Then there are “impact compounds” which he described as those which have enough character on their own to be highly distinctive, such as the rose petal scent of Gewürztraminer from the compound Rose-cis oxide.

Considering Sauvignon specifically he picked out certain “impact compounds” that are generative to the grape’s distinctive odour. These include methoxypyrazines, which give the green pepper character (an aroma also evident in low levels in Cabernet Franc), as well as polyfunctional thiols, also called mercaptans. These latter compounds include 4MMP, which gives a box-tree aroma, as well as 3MHA, source of the tropical fruit scent so common in Sauvignon.

Interestingly, he said that Sauvignon from Marlborough has a much higher level of polyfunctional thiols than found in other parts of the world – although he suggested these may not be associated with site specifics, but the harvesting technique. “It has been shown that machine-picked Sauvignon Blanc has 10 times higher thiol levels than hand-picked Sauvignon; and pretty much all New Zealand Sauvignon is machine- harvested,” he said. He explained, “Something is happening during the harvesting process to elevate the thiol levels massively.” This rise, bringing with it an enhanced tropical fruit scent, could be connected to the increased damage to the grapes caused by machine harvesting, which in turn precipitates enzymic processes in grapes, elevating the production of thiol precursors.

Close-Up-Loire-TastingNevertheless, wherever the Sauvignon is grown, the character of the wine comes from more than just the impact compounds methoxypyrazines and polyfunctional thiols, as well as their reaction with other components in the wine. Indeed, Goode mentioned an experiment by New Zealand scientist Frank Benkwitz, which showed that wine constituents without any aromatic characteristic on their own can strongly influence the way other molecules present in the wine are perceived – for instance, decreasing the tropical fruit character.

Summing up his introduction on Sauvignon and the science behind the grape’s aromatic profile he said, “I think Sauvignon Blanc is a really interesting grape and the Loire is a great place for it.”

Furthermore, during a subsequent tasting of 14 wines selected by Goode from the Concours Mondial du Sauvignon this year, in which he was a judge, he said that there are further factors which alter the amount and character of the methoxypyrazines and polyfunctional thiols in Sauvignon. These include when the grapes are picked (not just how), as well as how they are pressed, whether skin contact is employed, the amount of solids in the fermentation, the temperature, and importantly, the yeast choice – “a cultured yeast makes a big difference,” he said.

He also noted that winemakers of Sauvignon are unusual in wanting a range of ripeness levels in the grapes. “Certainly for red wines you want homogenous ripening,” said Goode, “but for Sauvignon a mix of ripeness is good because the greenness in Sauvignon is quite attractive.”

As for the role of soils, Goode commented, “We know soils make a difference because wines from different soils taste different, but what makes that difference is difficult – we can’t say that this soil will make this wine taste like this, and that soil will make that wine taste like that – it’s far too complex.”

As mentioned above, Goode selected 14 wines from 2013’s Concours Mondial du Sauvignon for the masterclass:

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