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I Hate(d) Sauvignon Blanc

I Hate(d) Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc, the Grape I Hate(d)

Well, “hate” is perhaps too strong a word. More “had little affection for/was mildly contemptuous of/avoided wherever possible”. That grape was Sauvignon Blanc.

And I know my lack of warmth towards the variety was widely shared. Rather like Chardonnay in the day of the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) Club, it became almost a rite of passage to diss Sauvignon.

Relative newbies to the world of wine drinking might be mystified by this negativity towards a grape that has, in recent times, seen a bounce in its reputation, fuelled perhaps by a number of producers (some properly iconoclastic) who have been crafting aspirational fluids (with commensurately aspirational prices) from this parent of Cabernet Sauvignon.

But back in the day the world was awash with slightly sweet, uber-grassy Kiwi examples and they met with considerable commercial success. Top of the wine bar charts, the stuff was inhaled in vast quantities on weekday evenings in towns and cities around the world and in equally widely distributed weekend gardens as soon as there was any danger of the sun appearing.

Friulian Revelation

All that changed a few years ago (at least for me) during a short stay in Friuli. Up there in far north-east Italy lies a land of rolling green hills far from alien to the British traveller. Here trout grow fat in clean, swift rivers; here Germanic, Italian  and Slavic cultures coexist in harmony, and here are produced some of Italy’s finest, most under-appreciated, under-the-radar wines.

I was eager to taste the wines, anticipating thrilling examples of Friulano (elsewhere Sauvignonasse), Malvasia, Ribolla Gialla and Pinot Grigio for whites and Refosco and perhaps some Schioppettino for reds. I knew that excellent wines are made in Friuli from Merlot and Chardonnay and I was brimming with interest to try those, too. What I was less interested in was sampling the local Sauvignon Blanc. With hindsight, it was ignorance that led me to believe Friuli’s Sauvignon production was a commercially cynical nod towards the international markets.

Thus I was in for a surprise during the first winery visit of the trip. I was interested to know, out of all the different white wines being produced, which did the wine maker consider their best, which gave them most pleasure. Sauvignon Blanc was the answer. And it was the same in the next cellar and the one after that.

The more Friulian Sauvignon Blanc I tasted, the more my surprise began to emanate from a different source i.e. from the wines themselves. Here were Sauvignons the like of which I had never experienced before.

It's all in the clone

Asking further questions, I learnt that there is a clone specific to the region (for wine geeks, it is the R3 clone from the Rauscedo nursery in Italy). Jancis Robinson describes it as “extremely pungent and recognizable” and I absolutely concur. The Friuli clone is something else.

Joyously, I recently tasted an amazing Sauvignon Blanc from this clone at a London tasting. Watch this space... We will be offering it very soon.



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