Sauvignon Bianco: the basics

Although Sauvignon Bianco (Sauvignon Blanc) is not an indigenous variety of Friuli, it had to be included here because of its prevalence and popularity in the region. I rarely reach for international grape varieties cultivated in Italy, but when it comes Friulian Sauvignon Bianco, I can’t agree more with Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey, who likes to call Sauvginon Bianco “Friuli’s secret weapon.”

The following post is my abridged translation of the entry on “Sauvignon Bianco” in Vitigni d’Italia, le varietà tradizionali per la produzione di vini moderni (Grape Varieties of Italy, the traditional varieties for the production of modern wines) by Antonio Calò et alia, Bologna, Calderini, 2006. This is the second in an educational series on the grape varieties of the Colli Orientali del Friuli, posted in conjunction with the COF 2011 aggregate blog.

Synonyms (documented and/or otherwise plausible): Bordeaux Bianco, Pellegrina, Piccabon, Spergolina, Blanc Fumè, Fumè, Surin, Fiè, Sauternes, Sylvaner Musqué, Muskat Sylvaner, Fegentraube, Savagnin Blanc, Savagnin Musqué.

Erroneous: Champagna, Champagne, Marzemina, Sciampagna, Sèmillon, Spergola, Spergolina Verde, Tocai Friulano.

Origins (Historical Notes): Sauvignon is cultivated in Bordeaux, particularly in the Sauternes. It probably came from this region to Italy, where it is has found suitable growing conditions in many areas and where its cultivation has been favored by growers. There is no doubt that the name Sauvignon originally meant “wild plant” (Bonnier e Levadoux, 1950). And indeed, its traits are similar to those found in the Lambrusca family. According to Molon (1906), its French origins are not certain, even though it has been cultivated in France since the 19th century. In France, two distinct types of Sauvignon are grown: Sauvignon Grosso, also known as Sauvignon Verde, and Sauvignon Piccolo, also known as Sauvignon Giallo. The only morphological differences between the two are in the fruit. The Verde or green-bunch biotype is Sauvignanasse, which is as widely planted in France as it is in Italy. In Friuli, it is called Tocai. There is also a pink or red clone of this variety, noted for its intense aroma and grown in warmer regions like Chile.

Environment and cultivation: Medium-low, dependable production. Slopes with dry conditions and stony soils are ideal for its cultivation. It thrives when pruning is not overly aggressive. Guyot and Cordone Speronato [i.e., cordon-trained, spur-pruned] are the recommended training systems for this variety. Because of its early ripening and hard-to-control acidity levels, temperate-cool climates are best for its cultivation where there is a higher synthesis of pyrazine and methoxypyrazine which are responsible for its elderberry and tomato leaf aromas.

Sensitivity to Disease and Other Issues: sensitive to peronospora, oidium, esca, very sensitive to botrytis and acid rot. It cannot tolerate spring freezes or hydric stress but has good tolerance for windy conditions.

Alcohol Content: 8.9-15%
pH: 2.6-3.6
Acidity: 3.9-9.3 grams per liter

Sauvignon Bianco makes a fine, food-friendly white wine, golden yellow in color with intense ripe fruit and floral aromas. Soft and velvety, lightly aromatic, warm, with good body, and delicate. Suitable for short-term aging. With the right conditions, it can be subjected to noble rot and late-harvested.

The variety is used exclusively for vinification. It is commonly grown in the Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Emilia, and Lombardy. It is used in many DOCs, including: Alto Adige, Colli Berici, Colli Bolognesi, Garda, Oltrepò Pavese, Bagnoli, Breganze, Isonzo, Terlano, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Collio Goriziano, Trentino, Erice, Corti Benedettine del Padovano, Pomino.

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