Sauvignon Blanc the French Way: Pessac-Léognan, Loire

How adventurous have you been with Sauvignon Blanc lately –– lately being the past few years, maybe even five or ten? I thought about this a few days ago when I blogged about a New Zealand SB. Do we drink Sancerre

Sauvignon Blanc Grapes

Sauvignon Blanc Grapes

these days? Or Pouilly Fumé? How about a Graves from the Bordeaux region? No Graves lately? No surprise. Expensive! Small quantities and individual vintages play havoc with availability and desirability. Most of us head to the California, Washington State or New Zealand aisles to pick up our Sauvignon Blanc. I remember a time in the business when Sauvignon Blanc was a Graves Blanc. Who remembers the glory days of Bordeaux whites? Close to no one. Those days are long gone, and mostly forgotten. Moderately priced Bordeaux whites rarely make it to the U.S., or importers pass due to little interest. The moderates are a product of Graves, but not Pessac-Léognan. The kick-ass ladies of Graves are from the Pessac-Léognan region. Pricey darlings, they are. Fine wine lists offer from one or two, to likely, none. If you’re looking for the kick-ass ladies of Bordeaux whites, talk to your Fine Wine merchant.

Bordeaux, Graves - Léognan

Bordeaux, Graves – Léognan

Here’s a general overview of dry white French Sauvignon Blancs (which omits Sauternes and Barsac):

BORDEAUX: GRAVES, PESSAC-LÉOGNAN (northern part of the Graves Region):

Three grapes are approved for the white wines of the Bordeaux region: Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon Blanc and Muscadelle, but the Sauvignon Gris has recently been an adopted step-child, believed to be a mutation of Sauvignon Blanc. To be fair, the Sauvignon Blancs of New Zealand and California are 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc, while in Graves, the SB grape is often the second in dominance, and the terroir calls for a blend.

The grape names do not appear on the front of a Graves label – somewhere on the back label, perhaps. The word ‘Graves’ and if appropriate, Pessac-Leognan, are always on the label of a Graves Blanc.

From elsewhere around the world you will find the grape name, Sauvignon Blanc, on the front label if the blend is predominantly Sauvignon Blanc. The second dominate grape, if there is one, is found on the back label.

I can’t say with certainty there are no 100 percent Sauvignon Blancs from Pessac-Leognan, but I can say with certainty almost all are a blend of at least two of the approved grapes. The Sauvignon Blanc grape brings complexity and acidity (in a way seldom, if ever, duplicated in the U.S. or New Zealand), while Sémillon adds profuse richness.

Shopping for one of the darlings? Vintages 2004 – 2010 are rated outstanding, and still need cellaring.


Loire Valley

Loire Valley

See Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé at mid-point to the right edge of the map.



In the Loire Valley of France, where many believe the finest Sauvignon Blanc in the world is produced, Sauvignon Blanc from the Appellation d’origine controlées (AOC) of Sancerre (a village) and Pouilly-Fumé (a village) – two AOCs lying mostly across the Loire River from each other, are both known for 100% Sauvignon Blanc, and are best compared to Sauvignon Blancs from places other than Graves.

Sancerre enjoys the greater reputation and is a larger area than it’s sister across the river. The Sancerre soil is largely an ancient oyster bed. The wines are known for their racy minerality, a steeliness with a citrus backbone and high in acidity. The vintage makes the difference in fruit nuances. When shopping look for the villages of Sancerre, Chavignol and Buè on the label.

Pouilly Fumé:

Pouilly-Fumés are generally fuller-bodied than Sancerres (unless a particular vintage intervenes) and are known for their structure and balance. They are considered richer and more aromatic with floral nuances and ripe tree fruits. The prevalent and powerfully smokey, musky aroma and taste lends ‘Fumé’ to the name. The vines grow almost entirely in flint and limestone – a rarity. Shopping for Pouilly-Fumé means looking for producers rather than village names – Ladoucette, Didier Dagueneau and Château Tracy. Find an interesting visit to Pouilly-Fumé here.

Vintages 2004 – 2010  for both Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé are considered exceptional and still needing age. But look at this contrary opinion.


Ask wine enthusiasts whether they think Sauvignon Blanc is a good food wine and you’ll get two consistent answers: yes and no. The truth: It depends on the wine and the food. See an example here. Sauvignon Blanc is a standout with cheeses and especially Chèvre (goat cheese), Brie, Cheddar, Asiago and Parmesan. Pair it with pestos and cream sauces, or pasta tossed with olive, lemon or lime. I would choose Sauvignon Blanc for hard-to-pair veggies like asparagus and Brussels Sprouts, and green, red, yellow and orange peppers, mushrooms, egg dishes, Caesar salads and many Japanese foods. It’s the winning aperitif wine when you don’t know your guests’ preferences.

PRONUNCIATION TIPS – say it as you see it:

Bordeaux: (bor-doe): (bor rhymes with for) (doe rhymes with foe)

Graves (grawv) (rhymes with mauve – no s or plural sound)

Loire (low-ah – said quickly together) (low has the sound of tow) (ah has the sound of law without the ‘w.’)

Pessac-Léognan (pay-sack lee own yo) (pay rhymes with lay) (sack rhymes with back) (lee rhymes with tee, own has the sound of mown) (yo rhymes go)

Pouilly-Fumé (poo-yee few-may) (poo rhymes with moo) (yee rhymes with gee) (few rhymes with mew) (may rhymes with lay) In the U.S. Foo-may for Fumé is also appropriate.

Sancerre (sawn-sehr) (saw rhymes with law) (sehr rhymes with fare).

Sauvignon Blanc (Sew-ven-yawn Blawnk) (sew rhymes with tow) (ven rhymes with ben) (yawn rhymes with lawn) blawnk has the ‘law’ sound in it – blawnk, rhyming with clonk. In French, the ‘c’ sound in Blanc is silent, so it is heard as Blawn with a slight nasal ‘n’ sound. In the U.S. ‘blawnk’ is appropriate.

Sauternes (sew-turn) (sew rhymes with tow) (turn rhymes with burn). In France, it is sew-tare-nah (tare rhymes with fare) (nah sounds like naw), but sew-turn is appropriate in the U.S.


Babich Sauvignon Blanc 2014 – New Zealand


2 comments for “Sauvignon Blanc the French Way: Pessac-Léognan, Loire

  1. David
    October 7, 2015 at 7:28 pm

    I have always been a fan of white bordeaux. I remember when Ch. Carbonnieux sold for $6.99 a bottle………..and it was great. Now I mostly buy Entre deux Mers.

    • October 13, 2015 at 9:35 am

      I remember the Chateau Carbonnieux days, too. Haven’t tried Entre deux Mers recently. I should do that.

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