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‘Sauvignon Blanc needs oak to go to next level’

Oak use may be key to Sauvignon Blanc reaching its full potential, Richard Bampfield MW has said.

Richard Bampfield MW believes winemakers could benefit from using oak to ferment and age Sauvignon Blanc (Photo: Twitter)

Speaking to the drinks business at a tasting of oaked Loire Valley Sauvignon Blancs and Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc-based wines in Central London – organised by Bampfield together with Jean-Christophe Mau of Château Brown and Chris Kissack of the Wine Doctor website – Bampfield said that while unoaked Sauvignon Blanc was “commercially very important”, there were limitations to the style.

“I think there is a sense that unoaked Sauvignon, wonderful though it is and commercially very important though it is, as an exciting wine style has its limitations.

Bampfield said that such limitations meant that, in general, unoaked Sauvignon Blanc would inevitably have a “price ceiling”, and that this was something that Sauvignon Blanc producers in regions such as the Loire and Bordeaux should address.

“If Sauvignon wants to go to the next level it may be from certain specific sites that have been identified that do it really well,” he said, “but I think it’s more likely to happen from people making oaked Sauvignon and doing it really well.

“We know with Chardonnay that ageing in oak, if it’s well done, can really add something to the wine. And a little bit of oak in Sauvignon can actually work really well if it’s practised by someone who really knows what they’re doing.

“So [this tasting is] more looking to the future and I think oaked Sauvignon is going to become a more recognised and admired wine style. At the moment, outside of Bordeaux, it’s a bit of a curiosity, but we think that’s likely to change.”

The tasting presented 29 wines – 16 100% Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire and 13 Sauvignon Blanc-dominant blends from Bordeaux. Most of the wines were presented in pairs of older and more recent vintages in order to make highlight the effect of bottle ageing.

The Loire contingent included wines from producers Chris Kissack described as the main players in the “niche” category of oaked Sauvignon Blanc in the region: Henri Bourgeois (Cuvée Etienne Henri Sancerre 2012 and 2002), Vincent Pinard (Petit Chemarin Sancerre 2012 and 2008), Lucien Crochet (Cul de Beaujeu Sancerre 2012 and 2010) and Didier Dagueneau (Blanc Fumé de Pouilly Silex 2012 and 2002).

The Bordeaux Sauvignons included three vintages of Château Brown (2009, 2010, 2012), three of Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte (2012, 2010, 2006), Domaine de Chevalier 2012 and 1999, and Château D’Yquem Y D’Yquem 2012 and 2006.

Also at the tasting was Jean-Christophe Mau, owner and manager of Pessac-Leognan estate Château Brown. Commenting on the comparison of oaked Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire Valley and Bordeaux, Mau said he believed the Bordeaux region was lagging behind the Loire in terms of style and value.

“I think they have too much oak, the Bordeaux style, too much extraction also,” he said. “And maybe the acidity is not at a good level; sometimes it is too high.

“For a lot of people who make wine in Bordeaux it’s more important to make red than white. The vision for white is maybe too much a vision of the red.

“For most of the people the top quality from Sauvignon is from the Loire Valley. We have begun to change that in Bordeaux but the prices for the top wine, I think, are too expensive.”

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