IT’S time we took another look at Sauvignon Blanc, a wine that can be refreshing, fruity, acidic, pungent, serious and fun.

Sauvignon’s spiritual home is Sancerre in France but it’s far better known over the last couple of decades for one far-flung wine region and one innovating winemaker. The far-flung region is Marlborough in New Zealand, where the winemakers of the 1980s took Sancerre’s bone dry and often austere grape and tarted it up a bit.

While not quite the vinous equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig, The transformation was remarkable with stand-out fruits on the nose and the kind of refreshing finish normally reserved for a cold shower.

Nowadays, when we think of quality Sauvignon, Sancerre is often a distant second except for those with sadomasochistic palates. The innovating winemaker was Robert Mondavi from the Napa Valley who came up with the idea of oak-ageing some parcels of Sauvignon Blanc to see if he could create a viable market for the variety.

The oak changed the wine so dramatically that he coined a new name for it, Fumé Blanc, and then rather generously spread the knowledge among his neighbouring vineyards. At a stroke Mondavi gave the Napa Valley its own style which was as unique to it as South Africa’s take on Chenin or Argentina’s versions of Malbec.

Nowadays good Sauvignons can be found all over the world but, for me, none of them can match the uniquely aromatic, tropical-fruit-dominated versions from Marlborough where some of the vineyards such as Cloudy Bay have reached legendary status among wine-lovers the world over. It seems that, far from having a Gerald Ratner moment when its wines were famously described as having the aroma of cats’ pee on a gooseberry bush, the region has held the quote up like a badge of honour and a mark of quality for other to aspire to!


Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc 2018: I’ve been drinking this one for all of its 25 years and it’s still the best, basically a well-balanced battle for dominance between tropical fruits and refreshing acidity. Serve chilled. Richardson’s of Whitehaven, £16.99.

Domaine Bel-Aire Pouilly Fumé: Floral on the nose with a minerally palate and hints of lemon on the finish. A rich, dry style of Sauvignon that’s best served with fish or cheese salads. Shills of Cockermouth, £20.50.