Top 10 defining drinks trends of this century so far

5. Green machine: Sauvignon Blanc

While this century has seen Chardonnay’s reputation swing from rejection to reverence, when it comes to Sauvignon Blanc, the trajectory has been different, with the grape moving from relative obscurity to, for some, an off-putting prevalence. Such a development has been driven by one country: New Zealand, above all the region of Marlborough, which is now fully planted, and almost entirely with Sauvignon Blanc.

A grape that’s famous for its green aromas, from gooseberries to bell pepper, and even nettles, it has, to some extent, made extreme refreshment trendy in wine. While some in the trade see such characters as unripe, others herald them as cooling and cleansing.

Going hand in hand with the rise of Sauvignon Blanc, which is now so widely planted there’s barely a wine region without at least an experimental few rows of the grape, has been the mockery of the variety by professionals, even if it’s still widely adored by the public. In essence, in the trade, there’s a snobbery regarding the grape; a sense that it lacks gravitas. As with all varieties, some entry-level offerings disappoint. Certainly our Sauvignon Blanc Masters has shown that the weakest examples can be thin, herbaceous and acidic, sometimes mixed with a touch of residual sugar – a combination that would give any grape a bad name. But mostly, it is Sauvignon’s instantly recognisable pungency, even at low prices, that makes it distinctive, memorable and crowd-pleasing.

It can also deliver a broad array of characteristics, depending on where it is grown and when it’s picked. These range from the crunchy bell pepper taste of cooler-climate areas to something pleasingly exotic, with notes of melon, pineapple and passion fruit, even an oily texture, particularly in the warmer climates of Napa or Graves.

And it’s wrong to believe Sauvignon Blanc can’t be used to create fine, ageworthy wines. Where old vines in great Sauvignon terroirs are coupled with skilled winemakers, the results can be astounding. Sometimes the complexity comes mainly from the site, with chalky characters mingling with citrus and lemongrass notes in the great whites of the Loire. At other times it seems to emanate from the cellar techniques, particularly the use of oak in the great Sauvignons of California or Bordeaux, where ripe fruit complements barrel-sourced vanilla flavours beautifully.
Finally, there are the blends, which highlight the potential greatness of this grape as a partner to others, particularly Semillon. And today, while Chardonnay has become skinnier, Sauvignon is going in the opposite direction, and there’s a move towards more textural styles, created through later harvesting, increased lees contact, and the use of barrels or foudres for fermentation and ageing, among other techniques.

But the biggest change in 200 issues concerns Sauvignon’s shift from French speciality to globally planted phenomenon, and a staple of every bar and restaurant worth its salt, particularly by the glass. However professionals may view the variety, consumers remain enthusiastically devoted to Sauvignon.

Toast: Lawson’s Dry Hills, Blind River Tekau Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand (Master medal-winner, Sauvignon Blanc Masters)

One Response to “Top 10 defining drinks trends of this century so far”

  1. Greg Fischer says:

    With green drinks in mind – The most sustainable wine on Earth is Mead. Craft Mead has developed not to be that off tasting syrupy overly sweet wine. With the different varietals of honey we are seeing craft meadmakers make fine mead both dry and sweet. Our Meadery Wild Blossom in Chicago produces the most locally wine made in the city.

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