Last weekend I visited a 1920s-themed “speakeasy” bar. Alas, the wine “list” didn’t match the prohibition-era music and décor. Their choice of whites was limited to say the least; bland Pinot Grigio or a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
Now, to me, NZ Sauv Blanc tends to carry an acrid aroma of cat’s urine. This is not an undocumented observation or a unique quirk of my olfactory system — nevertheless a lot of people do seem to like it. I voiced my concerns to the barman and he offered me a sample. Maybe this was an exception. It smelled of cat’s pee. I ordered a beer.
A tragic tale, I know. But it gave me the idea to do a direct comparison between three contrasting Sauv Blancs. And with each style sharing a stage like this, the difference was startling.
I chose the following:
Château do Thauvenay Sancerre. £11. 2015. 13%.
The blurb from this one’s website is pretty trippy. Perhaps it lost something in translation. Poetic genius or total gibberish? You decide…
“Pretty dress white gold hanging light. The nose opens slowly to deliver fresh flowers and shaded white fruit zest candied citrus. The mouth is fleshy and greedy, always on the white fruit. A fine balance acidity / alcohol offering sherful and crunchy whole.”
Sounds more Japanese than French to me. Still, it was refreshing and elegant with a steely northern minerality. If I were going to get all poetic and French about it, I’d call it “An Iron Age fort encircled by pear trees”.
Verdict: A solid tipple, if not especially complex, and you’re paying a couple of quid extra for the Sancerre brand.
Guy Saget Arnaud de Lassalle Pouilly-Fumé: £15. 2015. 13%.
The Pouilly-Fumé AOC is on the right bank of the Loire river in central France, just opposite its larger and slightly more famous rival, Sancerre. (Don’t confuse it with Pouilly-Fuissé, which is a Chardonnay-based Burgundy). The Fumé part refers to its distinctive smokey aroma, which has been described as “gun flint”.
Now, I don’t think I’ve smelled gun flint before, but I was totally getting a flinty, gunpowdery hit from this (presumably due to the terroir’s flinty soil), which I really liked.
It was aged sur lie, but remains well balanced, with apple and gooseberry notes complementing the yeastyness. The bottle also promised freshly cut grass and blackcurrent leaf, although I admit I didn’t get either of those.
Verdict: My favourite of the three. I loved its distinctive smokey, flinty character.
Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand). £10. 2015. 13%.
Unable to procure of a bottle of the famous Kiwi Sauvignon known as Cat’s Pee on a Gooseberry Bush, I picked up this popular alternative from a big-name producer. I enjoyed Villa Maria’s Chardonnay, but this one… not for me at all. Funnily enough, its feline-urinal qualities aren’t mentioned anywhere on the bottle or online. “Gooseberry, lime and tropical fruit,” they’ll say. No mention of pee anywhere.
Verdict: Of course, the difference between this and its French cousins is off the chart. So, while a lot of people love NZ Sauv Blancs, I’ll continue to swerve them like a cat in traffic.