What is sauvignon blanc? More importantly why does it solicit so much winemaking interest, continue to be planted at increasing rates and produced with so much great heart? The Grape Growers of Ontario see it as “an extremely precocious and vigorous cultivar in Ontario, even on sites of low vigor potential.” Though it is very sensitive to extreme cold it is attractive “for its vegetal or herbaceous flavours.” In British Columbia sauvignon blanc experienced an explosion in the 1990s” and is made in a “style (that) benefits from the natural high acidity and fruit ripeness. Both the crisp, zingy, green bean, grass and asparagus style, as well as a riper, tropical fruit, richer version can be found. Some of the most successful wines are oak fermented and blended with sémillon to make wines in a white Bordeaux style.”
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In Canada’s cool climate viticultural regions there just seems to be this persistent thirst for grassy, herbal and gooseberry gifting white wines embraced as sauvignon blanc but also those that are flinty, smoky, nutty, creamy and rich. This tells us that sauvignon blanc makes full use of its wiles to attain its ends. Whether or not you see its origins as Loire Valley (Sancerre, Touraine, Pouilly Fumé and Cheverny) or Bordeaux (Pessac-Léognan, Graves, Côtes de Bordeaux Blayes et Franc and Entre-Deux-Mers), Canada’s sauvignon blanc finds a way to please all camps.
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There were 25 medals awarded to Canadian sauvignon blanc at the 2019 Nationals, one platinum, three Gold, four Silver and 16 Bronze. The split between Ontario and British Columbia was almost exact with the nod to the east by only one over the west. Trius Showcase Clean Slate Sauvignon Blanc Wild Ferment 2017 from Niagara-on-the-Lake took home top honours, yet another varietal wine in the ever-increasingly impressive Showcase line-up fostered by winemaker Craig McDonald. This is a wine that won Silver in 2017, Gold in 2018 and now Platinum in 2019. I’d say that’s called moving in the right direction. Nearby to Trius out of Niagara vineyards is the Peller Estates Private Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2018, a consistently high quality example that continues to show remarkable success for sauvignon blanc in Ontario with its second straight NWAC Gold.
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The other two Gold winners are from British Columbia, first for the Howling Bluff Sauvignon Blanc Three Mile Creek 2018 noted by one judge as “exuberant…zesty acidity and a textural, multi-layered core.” The Hillside Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2018 from the Naramata Bench impressed as well as a “very ripe style of sauvignon blanc…crisp and refreshing with a smooth, medium-bodied profile and a subtly sweet, fruity finish.” The Silver winners are split two and two from both provinces, as are the Bronze winners in equal numbers, eight to eight. It’s just so bloody obvious that sauvignon blanc offers consumers what they want; equality, diplomacy and something for everyone.
Here are more sauvignon blanc tasted in recent weeks.
G.Marquis Sauvignon Blanc The Red Line 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (556894, $13.95, WineAlign)
Yes. Barrel fermented and flinty, reductive, smoky and with full fruit compliment. Crunchy, juicy, in metal motion and full of varietal excitement. So Fumé Blanc in character, rich, layered, variegated and fine. Plenty of acidity, herbal pesto, savour lemon square and length. Really accomplished wine. Drink 2019-2025. Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019
Nomad At Hinterbrook Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2018, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario ($16.95, WineAlign)
Steely, juicy, melons of yellow, orange and green, full fruit straight ahead. Just fruit and stainless steel acquiescing sauvignon blanc. Nothing off track here. Drink 2019-2021. Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019
Mission Hill Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (57430, $22.95, WineAlign)
The hyper-spirited layers of fruit intensity are noted above and beyond the previous vintage of Mission Hill’s Reserve sauvignon blanc. A similar grapefruit to guava to mango to gooseberry accumulation gathers albeit on a drier and more focused frame. The result is a douse of lime and a sprinkle of herbal salt for more complexity and ultimately opening the door to greater and further far reaching food pairings. Great joy in Mission Hill-ville with a nod to Sancerre-land. Drink 2019-2021. Tasted June 2019
Reif Estate Drea’s Sauvignon Blanc 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($26.50, WineAlign)
Leafy, savoury, verdant and grassy sauvignon blanc. Metallic, orange juiced and then, more metallics. Not a matter of excitement but definitely a thing of botany, chemistry and integrated science. Drink 2019-2020. Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019
CedarCreek Platinum Sauvignon Blanc Border Vista 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($33.70, WineAlign)
Aromatic whites are integral to the CedarCreek project and so sauvignon blanc is a natural for joining the ranks and carrying a torch. The wild ferment, 1500L oak foudres and concrete egg all contribute towards this three-pronged effect; musky berry skin scents, creamy and nutty flavours and then the kicker in how texture swells and fills the mouth. You’ve likely never experienced sauvignon blanc this way, not in the Loire, not in the New World and not even in British Columbia. This vintage presents a magnanimous beginning for what will become a benchmark varietal wine when the wild, wooly and moving parts learn how to co-exist in a world of balance. Can’t wait to see how ’18, 19 and ’20 turn out. Drink 2019-2021. Tasted June 2019
Le Vieux Pin Sauvignon Blanc 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($34.59, WineAlign)
Wholly engrossing sauvignon blanc of great pungency and perhaps a kiss of barrel here. Grassy and in a sense a crossing of Casablanca with Marlborough though just for a fleeting cerebral moment. Some mango to pear fruit sweetness through texture. Ambitious and reminiscently woolly style but B.C. knows how to make this happen and considering the expressiveness, why not? Dry extract and tannin come across on the finish. Drink 2020-2024. Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019
Good to go!