Looking back on Sauvignon Blanc

by  |  20-03-2019

My flight had arrived on time. This may seem a trivial concern but when flying Iberia’s budget line, Vueling, you prepare for the annoying but expect the worst. Sometimes that just means seats arranged for people who have a maximum height of 175cm when you’re at 193cm. Other times that means delays of 12 hours such as when they completely collapsed in the summer of 2018. So arriving-on-time Vueling is excellent Vueling.

Perhaps my arrival was painless because this wasn’t a vacation and I was flying to Venice but not actually going to Venice. There, at the arrivals gate was a fellow waiting to take me to Udine, the second city of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region in Northeast Italy. What was it that beckoned me to venture 130km away from such a striking destination as Venice? The answer: Sauvignon Blanc.

I had been invited to be one of the judges in the Concours Mondial du Sauvignon, an annual competition of Sauvignon Blanc that just saw its 10th edition hosted in this lovely little corner of Italy. The hosting region changes each year (next year will see its return to Loire) so it gives those who come and taste a cornucopia of Sauvignon Blanc (a record 1,010 entries this year from 26 different countries) for two days while exploring the region that surrounds the judging venue.

So this was the allure as it gave me the chance to taste wine that I rarely encounter in Spain–outside of DO Rueda and the few vineyards in Catalunya–and it allowed me to see a bit more of Italy which is always high on any list of goals in life. Of course those who know Sauvignon Blanc would probably still ask as to why one would want to taste just that wine for two straight days? Because while curiosity may have killed the cat for some reason, it makes wine a hell of a lot more exciting.

It’s easy to dismiss Sauvignon Blanc. I think the term “Cougar Juice” is often (and aptly) applied. A Master Sommelier matter-of-factly stated during a seminar I attended recently, “A monkey can make Sauvignon Blanc.” He was referring in general to the wines that are typically found from Marlborough, New Zealand but it is true that there’s little headache in making the wine. You pick when acidity is still high, you destem, add your yeast, and let it rip, bottling not long after it’s settled/stabilized a bit.

But that’s why tasting a wealth of wines from this (or any) grape is a worthy venture as to assume one thing or the other is foolish. There was most definitely much variation in the 70 wines myself and the other four judges at my table went through in the two days and that was without seeing any Kiwi juice. Much of what was tasted was from Friuli-Venezia Giulia as the grape isn’t a newcomer there, being brought in mid-19th century by nobility. From there, the grape has endured and thrived with the majority of the 3,400ha of Sauvignon Blanc in all of Italy being in this region, although I would still like to see a bit more of Ribolla Gialla/Rebula around…

Admittedly, a great many of the wines in the competition weren’t that interesting. Fine, drinkable, and well-made but nothing of great note. This is definitely no commentary against Sauvignon Blanc as it’s a pretty regular occurrence that for all competitions, much of what is entered is average wine in the hopes of fishing a medal… somehow. I don’t understand this strategy as the judges are all well-trained in the world of wine and judging it so, “basic wine in” will be “basic wine out”, but I digress.

There were of course winners, 24% more than the year previous, totaling 167 medals of the 1,010 wines. And France retook the lead as the highest-scored wine, knocking Germany out of the place it had held for the last two years. That’s pretty decent Cougar Juice and following were some of the wines I picked out and scored as notable.

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