Look beyond the obvious regions for exciting, delicious Sauvignon Blanc.
From €10.50, 263 Czech koruna, £12.95, $14.99 (2017 vintage)
There is something, I’ve discovered, about Sauvignon Blanc from Central Europe. It’s different from the grassy green gooseberry and grey flint of France, the hula-hoop tropicality of New Zealand, and the wannabe styles found all over the world as producers try to cash in on a trend that even Pinot Grigio wasn’t able to knock out.
Sauvignon Blanc in Central Europe (think Austria, Croatia, Germany) has a roundness of fruit – even on the driest, lightest alcohol wines – that you rarely see in other cool-climate regions without the tell-tale aftertaste of residual sugar. But it has a purity and complexity of natural acidity that can seldom be achieved in warmer climates.
Whether it’s something to do with continental climate, the extremes of very cold winters and hot summers, clones or a culture of winemaking, I cannot say. Perhaps it is because they haven’t felt pressed to imitate New Zealand, perhaps Cloudy Bay passed them by. But over the last few years, the most drinkable Sauvignons I have come across have come from this part of the world.
Slovenia, in particular, is making some of the most exciting under-the-radar Sauvignons I have tasted in a while. From Brda in the west to Štajerska in the east (pictured below), from full skin contact and barrel fermentation to pure stainless steel, grown on gravel and sandstone opoka or deep Pannonian clay, the Sauvignons from Slovenia are diverse and exceptionally delicious.
Verus, in the Ljutomer-Ormož region of north-eastern Slovenia, is not only a producer of textbook-pure varietal Štajerska Slovenian wines in general (see Eastern Slovenia – the tasting notes and Jancis’s wine of the week back in 2008 for more background to the trio behind Verus) but they make that rare thing: a Sauvignon Blanc that you drink too quickly because it is so good, not because you need to get beyond how bad it is.
I first visited them in 2018 on one of the last days they were in their old winery – a bakery that they’d been renting since they started up on a shoestring budget in 2007. They were on a knife edge. The vintage had been warmer than the last few years and the grapes were very, very close to ready. Their lease on the bakery was up and they had but days to get everything out: tanks, pumps, presses, destemmer, barrels, hoses, bottles, buckets, wine. But, as Danilo said with a pained smile, ‘construction workers are always late…’ Their new winery wasn’t ready for their existing stock, let alone the 2018 harvest.
The construction workers hadn’t even finished when they installed the tanks in the new winery (finally finished, above) on the Saturday. On Tuesday they connected five of them to the chilling system, and on Wednesday they were full. Of Sauvignon Blanc.
So, this little wine I have chosen, picked on 6 September 2018, was the first wine to be made in their new winery. And despite the chaos around its arrival, it doesn’t bear one iota of distress. It is the most apple-fresh Sauvignon I have ever tasted.
‘Damn delicious!’ are the first words I wrote down. Green apples and morning-dew-wet grass and pea shoots. Bit of fresh guava roundness. Vibrant, full of energy, fabulously balanced. Little bit of tomato vine and basil and spearmint on the finish. It fills the mouth and, unusually for Sauvignon, satisfies. And it’s just 12.7% alcohol.
They use 100% stainless steel, temperature controlled, starting at 15 °C (59 °F) and finish at 20 °C (68 °F). They work with very clean juice (I can well believe that – I’ve seen their winery!), avoid high temperatures and fast fermentation. Total production is 65,000 bottles, coming from 20 vineyards in the Ljutomer-Ormož region and exported to 20 countries.
Lea & Sandeman are selling it for £12.95, £11.50 if you buy a mixed case of 12, and at both price points it is fantastically good value. You can also pick it up in Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia, Belgium and the Netherlands for between €10 and €12. The 2017 – also a good wine, but go for the 2018 if you can get it – is available in Bulgaria, Serbia and the USA, where it’s imported by Bourget Imports and Martin & Co Wines, and can be found for around $15 a bottle. In the UK, WoodWinters Wines & Whiskies sells the 2017 for £14 and Field & Fawcett for £13.60.
I would like nothing better than to see a wine like this replace the ubiquitous and industrially dull Sauvignon Blancs dominating the wine lists of so many decent eateries in the UK. It’s time for wine-list writers to use a little imagination. Try Middle-earth!
(The main photo, above right, as well as the first photo of the vineyards and the third photo of grapes are published here by kind courtesy of Verus.)