Sauvignon Blanc is an aromatic white variety with high acidity. It’s aromas (and aromatic intensity) vary greatly depending on where and how it is grown and the winemaking that is applied to it.
In Australia, most people are familiar with Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand. This wine has a very recognisable set of aroma and flavour descriptors like grass, green bell pepper, asparagus, passionfruit and elderflower. It’s important to remember that this style is the result of very deliberate decisions in the vineyard and the winery. Partial shading and cooler sites are used to add the green vegetal characters and fruit from warmer, sunnier sites is blended in to add the tropical characters. Yeast strains are often selected based on their ability to emphasise those aromas, helping them to jump out of the glass.
In cold regions like Sancerre in France, winemakers generally aren’t looking to exaggerate any green characters, and might use old oak and lees stirring to add texture and complexity to the wines. Typical Sancerre often has notes of lemon, gooseberry and wet stone and can have quite a subtle aroma. Some producers may include grapes with botrytis to add notes of dried fruit and honey.
Sauvignon Blanc is grown in locations throughout the Loire that are warmer than Sancerre but still cool in terms of overall climate and these wines often have a little more fruit and weight to them. In Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc is blended with Semillon and Muscadelle, sees time in oak and is all together a richer wine.
Many Australian winemakers look for a style mid way between the two, avoiding the amped up intensity of the Marlborough style, and borrowing textural elements from the latter. Some winemakers also choose to use partial skin contact to build structure and flavour into the wines.
For a grape that is often dismissed because of one polarising example, Sauvignon Blanc is much more versatile that given credit for.
In terms of food pairing, lean, racy new world examples are good with salads and fried food, Loire Valley examples can sub in for French seafood based dishes that you might normally pair with Chablis or Loire Chenin and rich examples could replace Alsatian or Rhone/Southern French Whites in pairings with pork or cheese based dishes.