What is the difference between Sauvignon Blanc & Fumé Blanc ?

During wine tastings, trade classes, chef dinners and even during casual situations. I regularly get asked what is the difference or differences between this grape or this wine. It could be a grape varietal which they have never heard of or tasted or a new winery or label.
So the following series is looking at what are the differences between an 'Unoaked' style, to an 'Oak Aged' or 'Barrel Fermented' - or 'Fumé Blanc' style (which refers to the French term meaning 'smoky white') Sauvignon Blanc. Describing the typical flavour profile characteristics, highlighting two examples and then suggesting a few food pairing ideas for you to try for yourself, the next time you have a bbq, dinner or an evening out.

Sauvignon Blanc can trace its origins to two wine regions in France - the Loire Valley and Bordeaux. But it was the style of wine made in New Zealand in the 1980's that got people to take notice again and enjoy this expressive white grape variety.
When it comes to making Sauvignon Blanc, winemakers can harvest the grapes at various intervals for different blending characteristics that the grape can impart depending on its ripeness. During its early ripening stages, the grape is high in malic acid. As it progresses towards full ripeness the grape develops red & green capsicum flavours and in warmer climates, leaning towards topical fruits like pineapple.
Once harvested, it is then up to the winemaker to showcase and express both the varietals natural personality and any character influences from the growing season & location. Another important decision is the chosen temperature of fermentation. French winemakers prefer slightly warmer fermentation temperatures (around 16º- 18ºC) that bring out the mineral flavours in the wine. While New World winemakers (i.e. New Zealand, Chile) prefer slightly cooler temperatures (around 12º- 15ºC) to bring out more fruit and tropical notes on both the nose and on the palate.
A number of winemakers around the globe like to give the varietal some time in oak barrels, which can have a pronounced effect on the final wine, with the oak rounding out the flavours and softening the naturally high acidity of the grape and giving some breath and added smoky flint nuances to the palate and finish.
Some winemakers, like those in New Zealand and more recently in the Sancerre region, prefer stainless steel fermentation tanks over oak barrels with the intention of maintaining a vibrancy to the aromas and flavours of Sauvignon Blanc.

• Classic Flavours: Cut grass, herbaceous characters, gooseberries, capsicum, grapefruit and quince - plus from some sites chalky mineral & flinty notes. From warmer aspects & climates; pineapple & passionfruit; and then a hint of vanilla and almond notes if aged in oak, and more complex layers if barrel fermented.


Jules Taylor Wines
2023 'Marlborough' Sauvignon Blanc

Grape Varietal: 100% 'Unoaked' Sauvignon Blanc
Region: Marlborough - New Zealand
Owner / Winemaker: Jules Taylor

Brief Tasting Note:
Vibrant aromas of grapefruit, lemon peel, lime zest and hints of green herbs. The zesty palate is showcasing ripe citrus flavours and the splash of passionfruit and a subtle mineral seam. The palate is dry with a lip-smacking finish.

Chill & serve at 7°- 9°C : 13.6% Alc./vol.


Saint Clair Wines
2020 'Barrique' Sauvignon Blanc

Grape Varietal: 100% 'Oaked' Sauvignon Blanc
Region: Marlborough - New Zealand
Winemakers: Stewart Maclennan & Hamish Clark

Brief Tasting Note:
A hand-crafted wine with greater winemaker influence. The grapes were pressed into seasoned French oak barriques. Post fermentation the wine was aged on its lees for 11 months, resulting in a luxurious, complex and textural style.

Chill & serve at 8°- 10°C : 12.5% Alc./vol.

Classic Food Pairing Suggestions: 
A crisp, dry, unoaked, lighter style Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with: fresh shellfish (e.g. mussels, scallops, clams & prawns), along with simply prepared (steamed, citrus cured) fish dishes served with a lightly seasoned salads and varied crunchy green vegetarian cuisine.

A broader, richer, fuller oak aged Fumé Blanc which has had time in oak or barrel fermented and with a little age - can pair well with: bbq'd or smoked whole fish, along with Trout, Tuna & Salmon steaks, seafood paella, smoked fish pie, even a seafood chowder…to name just a few dishes - enjoy and share the journey.


Links to more wine varietal comparisons...