Love Sauvignon Blanc but want to try something a bit different? Resident expert Mark Slaney selects some alternative wines to try
A long time ago, but not quite as long ago as there were dragons and knights in armour, everyone was more than happy to drink Chardonnay if they fancied a glass of white wine. Chablis was chic, Burgundy was de rigueur and Napa Chardonnay was cool. Then came the backlash and Sauvignon Blanc took off big time. There had always been Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé but then along came New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and that was such a success that everyone went Sauvignon Blanc mad.
So now there is no shortage of choice when it comes to this white grape variety that is generally synonymous with fresh, un-oaked zingy whites that offer a breadth of bouquets from gooseberries to tropical fruit and a spectrum of tastes just as diverse.
On the wine list which I have created for the Horseshoe Restaurant at Eddleston there are a dozen Sauvignon Blancs and as a wine buyer I’m spoilt for choice – every country it seems wants to befriend this grape variety. France obviously has plenty of choice beyond Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé and you’d be crazy to ignore the best of what New Zealand offers. But that is barely the tip of the iceberg.
Whilst Chardonnay wines range from cheap to mega expensive, Sauvignon Blanc wines rarely go into the stratospheric realms of such highly priced wines as the likes of fine white Burgundies. I have picked out four Sauvignon Blanc wines that are somewhat off the beaten track.
Valencay. 2012. Sebastien Vaillant.
This wine comes from the Loire just like Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé but it tastes different, yet remains vaguely familiar to Sancerre lovers. There are three other lesser known villages near Sancerre making similar style wines – Reuilly, Quincy and Menetou-Salon. They’re all worth trying but for me Valencay is more exciting and more unusual. Whilst the villages and vineyards which are allowed to label their wine as Sancerre has grown enormously over the years to meet rising demand, Valencay remains an almost unknown and under-valued wine. There are now 2,900 hectares of Sancerre vines whilst Valencay has just 67.
I suspect the goat’s cheese from Valencay is seen more often outside the village than the wine. Both to my mind are delicious. The Valencay from Sebastien Vaillant is not 100% Sauvignon Blanc and the judicious addition of a very small amount of chardonnay has enriched the wine and added an extra dimension. Vaillant has been clever with his vineyard, most is clay/flint soil which is ideal for Sauvignon Blanc but where the soil is sandy and high in lime, he’s planted chardonnay. The wine is un-oaked but it is aged on the lees for a few months and that combined with that splash of Chardonnay means there’s richness and body here underlying that classic zingy style you can expect from a Loire Sauvignon Blanc.
Lignum. 2012. Albet i Noya. Penedes.
This is another wine that is not exactly 100% Sauvignon Blanc and like the Valencay it has some Chardonnay in the blend. The wine is made organically from vines grown at a pretty high altitude (nearly 1,000 feet above sea level) in Penedes where cooler air means grapes that ripen more slowly and ultimately make for more complex flavours. The third grape variety in this wine is Xarel-lo – a local variety which nearly died out in the 19th century. It has good acidity and adds a vital and interesting component to this wine.
The Sauvignon Blanc grapes are fermented in stainless steel but the Chardonnay grapes get two months in oak. The result is a fresh, lively, crisp dry wine but one with lots of depth, a hint of creaminess and a myriad of complementing flavours – apples, pears, nuts, honey (just a hint), even a suggestion of something like cinnamon perhaps? Anyhow, I love everything about this wine except for the childish label, which does it no favours.
Sauvignon Blanc / Gros Manseng. 2013. Domaine Horgelus. Gascony.
Gascony has been knocking out decent, good valued whites for decades now. Sauvignon Blanc has been a staple grape variety for many of these. What lifts the wine from Domaine Horgelus above the crowd is that the vineyard management and viticulture here is as precise and sympathetic to the grape variety as the best estates of New Zealand – picking the grapes when it is really cool to preserve their aroma development and all those nifty little trade secrets the New Zealand wine-makers use are employed here.
This wine has some Gros Manseng added – a variety noted in Jurancon and one that for me adds a hint of something a tad exotic. This is a ridiculously good glass of wine for the price tag and it’s just the sort of appetising wine I’d keep a bottle of in the fridge for everyday drinking.
Sancerre La Bourgeoise. 2011. Henri Bourgeois. Loire.
Back in the 1990s I invited a handful of wine merchants to field samples for a blind tasting of Sancerre for a restaurant to choose the one they liked the best. The wine that came out top, by a mile, was from Henri Bourgeois. This domain’s reputation has just gone on building and they have even bought land in New Zealand and make Sauvignon Blanc out there. The La Bourgeoise Sancerre is from very old vines grown on flinty, silex soil. They also make a wine called Sancerre Les Baronnes from old vines grown on chalky-clay soil.
The two wines show a different style and an added twist to the incredible depth of flavour and perfume from the La Bourgeoise wine comes from partial barrel fermentation and a proportion of the wine being aged for a few months in French oak. Such indulgent practices are not what your typically Sancerre wine-maker would bother with. As Spock would say: “Jim, this is Sancerre but not Sancerre as we know it.”
Valencay. 2012. Sebastien Vaillant is shipped by Liberty Wines, London.
Lignum. 2012. Albet i Noya is shipped by Vintage Roots, Hook, Hampshire.
Sauvignon Blanc / Gros Manseng. 2013. Domaine Horgelus and Sancerre La Bourgeoise. 2011. Henri Bourgeois are both shipped by Alexander Wines, Glasgow.
Contact the shipper for your nearest stockist or search the web.
• Mark Slaney has been a commercial wine buyer for hotels and restaurants for over thirty years. He has written a book on wine, “Tasting Notes”, which has been published in paperback. He is also General Manager at the Horseshoe Restaurant with Rooms, Eddleston, By Peebles, Scotland, EH45 8QP
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