I’ve often been struck by the similarity of sauvage—the French word for “wild” or “untamed”—to Sauvignon. The comparison usually stops there, though, as most of us who are familiar with the grape associate it with crisp, refreshing white wine, like a favorite Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé, or even an herbal, clean, new-world take on the variety. Those are all nice, but they’re hardly rock ’n’ roll, if you know what I mean. Here are three examples of the grape’s wild side. If they didn’t say Sauvignon on the label, you would be hard-pressed to guess!
Sauvignon Blanc takes on countless incarnations throughout the world, and of course, it all comes down to terroir and winemaking. Only certain sites have the capacity to draw finesse and drinkability from this variety, and even when planted in the right places, techniques such as inoculation with aromatic yeast strains and sterile filtration can zap the life from what would be a fine wine, producing instead a beverage more reminiscent of mass-produced fruit punch than an authentic representation of place and the unique hand of a vigneron. This brings us to Egna, a small town in Alto Adige, Italy’s northernmost (and perhaps its most stunning) wine region. In 1990, local grower Peter Dipoli planted Sauvignon on steep terrain of rocky limestone, perched hundreds of meters above the valley floor in a position that appears more suitable to mountaineering than viticulture. The grapes from this breathtaking parcel are fermented and aged in large acacia casks, a method that promotes the development of deep, complex flavors while retaining the racy nerve that provides thirst-quenching refreshment. You won’t find any grassiness in Peter’s Sauvignon, and certainly no cat pee. Its perfume is exotic yet refined, with ripe, luscious citrus introducing a textured mouthfeel of total precision before a bracing, chalky finish. Bottle age is certain to reveal further nuances—with five or ten more years, this 2014 promises to be truly spectacular. Indeed, this compelling expression of the variety speaks more to the extreme conditions in which it grows and the prowess of its maker than to Sauvignon’s often overtly obvious varietal character. This unparalleled mountain white will satisfy and refresh, all while shattering any preconceived notions of what Sauvignon Blanc should be.
The great Edi Kante, a true artista in every sense of the word, is seldom seen. In fact, here in Kermit’s European office, none of us have ever met or spoken with him in person, despite multiple visits to the estate. If you were to imagine a reclusive artist, in a far corner of a country where Latin, Slavic, and Germanic cultures all blend, this is the masterpiece one would expect. There is a pure, restrained element here, and a creamy, one-of-a-kind texture I could never imagine coming from Sauvignon—or any other varietal, for that matter. Built for the cellar, or perhaps the museum.
Also called “Sauvignon Rose,” the pink-skinned Fié Gris—nearly extinct just a decade ago—makes an unusual combination of lemony, oceanic, and ginger-accented aromatics, with an ample mouthfeel that’s almost spicy and fennel flavored, for lack of more accurate descriptors. To top it all off, Éric says to pair it with olives. This ain’t your mama’s Sauvignon!
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