11 brilliant barrel-influenced Sauvignon Blancs

Patrick Schmitt MW rounds up a selection of the best examples of barrel-influenced Sauvignon Blancs that he has tasted over the past 12 months.

There’s a misconception among some Sauvignon Blanc drinkers that the grape only produces crisp, light, and slightly green-tasting whites, a style of wine that may be ideal for quenching your palate, but less suitable for enjoying during the course of a meal.

However, the world’s greatest Sauvignon Blancs can be quite rich and weighty, with tropical fruit flavours, and a creamy character from fermentation and / or ageing in barriques.

And it is this style of Sauvignon Blanc that is suitable for drinking with richer styles of cuisine, particularly dishes that are more difficult to pair with wines, such as those containing goat’s cheese, pungent herbs, or earthy and powerfully-flavoured vegetables such as artichoke or beetroot.

It is also this style of Sauvignon Blanc that should convince the sceptic that the grape can be used to create fine wines on a par with great whites from Chardonnay, mostly notably white Burgundy.

And what’s appealing about riper and richer styles of Sauvignon Blanc is that they may taste of exotic fruit, but there’s invariably a lovely balancing freshness, because the grape has a naturally high acidity.

Nevertheless, there is great variation among the finer and bigger styles of Sauvignon Blanc on the market today. Some of this diversity stems from site specifics and viticultural techniques, particularly the reduction of yields to enhance flavour concentration, as well as the decision to increase exposure and delay harvesting dates for riper notes. Otherwise, variation hails from cellar techniques, where extended lees contact in oak barrels will add texture, as well as creamy, vanilla characters to the wine. How much, however, depends on the size of the oak container, the length of time the wine spends in the barrel, how much of the wood is new, and how regularly the wine’s lees are stirred.

Importantly, marrying the creamier notes from barriques to Sauvignon is not easy, and requires high-quality, ripe grapes for the oak characters to complement the fruit flavours – any herbaceous elements in the grape will clash with the wood-sourced sweetness.

Finally, it should be noted that some of the best Sauvignon Blancs are blends. The grape can partner a few varieties successfully, but particularly Semillon, the traditional accompaniment to Sauvignon in Bordeaux, where it’s used to add more oily fatness to Sauvignon’s inherently tauter nature.

Over the following pages are some of the best examples I tasted from 2017’s Sauvignon Blanc Masters from the drinks business, as well as a few extra examples that didn’t feature in the latest competition, but are worthy of a mention.

One Response to “11 brilliant barrel-influenced Sauvignon Blancs”

  1. Jonathan Rodwell says:

    Pity not to have seen a Sauvignon Blanc from Styria – without doubt one of the most distinct and interesting European SB”s

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