Sauvignon Blanc has become the go-to wine for Americans during the pandemic

July 14, 2020, 12:00 PM UTC

Before the pandemic, wine sales had been shaky in the United States, with some speculation that millennials had started to turn away in favor of hard seltzer, craft beer, and low-ABV cocktails. But since the pandemic consumed the world this year, off-premise wine sales have turned around—and Sauvignon Blanc might be leading the way.

Over the past four months, the fastest-growing wine types in the U.S. have been Sauvignon Blanc, red blends, Moscato, Pinot Noir, rosé, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Riesling, in that order, according to market research firm Nielsen. All of them saw sales rise by at least 30% or more, with Sauvignon Blanc leading at 38%.

Overall, wine dollar sales via off-premise channels grew 18.5% during the last week of June, compared with the same time in 2019. (In May, dollar sales for wine had grown to 35.8% year over year, and sparkling wine alone was up 48.1% from the year prior, proving that bubbly is popular at any time of year—not just on holidays and at celebrations.)

Interest in Sauvignon Blanc had already been growing in the U.S. before the pandemic. Sales volume was up 8.9% in volume in 2019 year over year, at a 4.4% compound annual growth rate from 2014 to 2019, according to IWSR Drinks Market Analysis.

“Sauvignon Blanc has been exploding in popularity; it’s essentially summer in a glass,” says Albert Dahan, CEO and founder of Maison Marcel, a wine producer in Provence, France. “It’s very fruit-forward and on the drier side, and if you’re looking for an alternative to more acidic rosés, Sauvignon Blanc is the perfect option.”

Sauvignon Blanc is a green-skinned grape variety, most popular with winemakers in from the Loire Valley and Bordeaux regions of France. Most people know Sauvignon Blanc as one of the most popular varietals of white wine. For one, it blends well with other white grapes. It also grows well in multiple regions worldwide, from California to Chile to New Zealand to South Africa.

“France may have been the birthplace for Sauvignon Blanc, but vintners in New Zealand, particularly in Marlborough, have seen great successes offering lighter, easy-drinking wines at a range of price points,” says Ryan Lee, IWSR market analyst. “Success of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has led other vineyards from across the world to plant more of this grape, helping to expand reach. Appealing to a wide range of consumers both on taste profile and cost, Sauvignon Blanc has continued to grow while other white wine varietals trend down.”

Within its home country, Sauvignon Blanc is also the primary grape used in Sancerre, a region in the eastern part of the Loire Valley known for its eponymous wine expression. (This could be due to French labeling laws, which require a wine to be labeled according to region, not varietal.)

Among one of the top producers in Sancerre familiar to U.S. oenophiles is Domaine Pascal Jolivet. The winery specializes in biodynamic and low-intervention winemaking, using wild fermentation to yield wines with a distinct terroir. In recent years, the category of natural wines has seen astronomical growth in popularity. “The style of natural, or biodynamic, winemaking gives more energy to the Sauvignon Blanc grape as well as an incomparable texture due to better integration of fruit and acidity,” Jolivet says.

“Biodynamic is tricky. There’s a lot of mysticism in it,” says Stefanie Schwartz, a sommelier at Portale in New York City. “The vine itself is vigorous, so it will survive most of what happens during the season, and can take on super fun, funky characteristics when left unattended. But the familiar notes will remain. That’s the beauty of the grape.”

Pascal Jolivet is pushing the envelope further within the French wine industry—one that prides itself in tradition above all else—by renaming “Pouilly-Fumé” (a Loire appellation easily confused with Burgundy’s Pouilly-Fuissé) to “Blanc-Fumé,” a more palatable name for the average wine drinker—especially those who don’t speak French.

“People are in love with Sancerre. Sauvignon Blanc is easily the most popular white wine right now, and Sancerre allows people to drink a sophisticated wine without any hard-to-pronounce words. This wine also goes with almost anything,” says Jeff Harding, wine director at the Waverly Inn & Garden in New York.

And Sauvignon Blanc is also very flexible for food pairings, especially in summer. Carrie Lyn Strong, a sommelier and owner of Strong Wine Consulting, notes it goes perfectly with seafood—like shellfish, ceviche, and sushi—Cobb salads, and cheeses that mimic the flavors of the wine, such as Alpine cheeses offering grassy, herbaceous, and buttery notes with crystalline structures.  

Jamie Rubin, a sommelier and former general manager at the Ambra Restaurant Group in Philadelphia, has a more unexpected, but very accessible suggestion: “I’m a sucker for a good junk food pairing. Probably my favorite regional junk food in the U.S. is the Chicago hot dog. (Don’t tell my Philly or NYC people. They’ll be so mad.) I think a Chicago dog with Sauvignon Blanc that has some oak—perhaps from Bordeaux or Napa—is incredible.”

07132020-Sauvignon Blanc Wine-Featured
Photo-Illustration by Fortune

When choosing a Sauvignon Blanc, Jeff Cichocki, winemaker at Bonterra Organic Vineyards in Hopland, Calif., recommends looking for one with hallmark citrus fruit and herbaceous notes, crisp acidity, and evocative aromatics. “Folks often think of Sauvignon Blanc for summertime and warm weather, but it’s actually among the most versatile wines out there—making it perfect to enjoy year-round. That said, it’s undeniably great for this time of year: Its signature crisp acidity makes it ideal for pairing with a wide selection of foods, while its light body means you can easily sip it on its own on a hot day.”

If you’re interested in sipping Sauvignon Blanc this summer, chill these bottles and give them a taste. (And don’t forget to drink and social distance responsibly.)

07132020-Wine-Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc
Courtesy of Bonterra

Bonterra Organic Vineyards: The 2019 Sauvignon Blanc is a budget-friendly choice for summer without sacrificing quality. With aromas of kumquat and white peach on the nose, this wine offers flavors of bright melon and citrus with a subtle hint of grass and refreshing acidity for a vibrant, clean, and lengthy finish. Ideal for sipping at a campsite. SRP: $14.

07132020-Wine-Glazebrook Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough
Courtesy of Glazebrook

Glazebrook: Glazebrook is one of the first estate wineries in New Zealand, and helped shape the evolution toward a recognizable style of wines from the country. With a nose typical of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, the wine has a lively palate of tropical fruits with crisp lime acidity and lingering passion fruit. SRP: $15.

07132020-Wine-Hewiston Lu Lu Sauvignon Blanc
Courtesy of Hewitson

Hewitson: Located in South Australia’s Barossa Valley, one of the country’s most famous viticultural regions, Hewitson’s vineyards are situated between Hahndorf and Mount Barker on one of the highest and coolest slopes in the Adelaide Hills. The LuLu Sauvignon Blanc expresses intense fresh grass and tropical fruit characters. SRP: $15.

Courtesy of Maison Marcel

Maison Marcel: Made with low sulfites and no added sugar, Maison Marcel offers a variety of wines—from reds to whites to sparkling rosés—all of which are carefully crafted to deliver vibrant tasting notes of white peach, red fruits, passion fruit, and elderflower. The Ocean Bound is crisp, refreshing, and easy to drink. A blend of 90% Sauvignon Blanc grapes and 10% Gros Manseng, sourced from Gascony in southwestern France, the tasting notes of white peach, honeydew, and tropical fruits add a light sweetness and roundness to this subtle mélange. SRP: $19.

07132020-Wine-Luigi Bosca Sauvignon Blanc
Courtesy of Luigi Bosca

Luigi Bosca: The Luigi Bosca winery is rooted in Mendoza and is Argentina’s oldest family-owned winery. Its vineyards are between 780 and 1,150 meters above sea level, watered by pure meltwater streaming down from the Andes Mountains. The unique terroir and elevation result in a Sauvignon Blanc with aromas of tropical fruit and herbs. SRP: $20.

07132020-Wine-Pascal Jolive Sancrre Sancerre Blanc
Courtesy of Pascal Jolivet

Pascal Jolivet Sancerre Blanc: This is a textbook Sancerre. The Sauvignon Blanc grapes are blended from three different vineyards in the Loire Valley with Pascal’s low-intervention winemaking style, allowing the grapes to showcase their terroir and yielding a fresh wine that screams with racy acidity. SRP: $30.

07132020-Wine-Pascal Jolive Sancrre Sauvage Blanc
Courtesy of Pascal Jolivet

Pascal Jolivet Sauvage: The Sauvignon Blanc grapes are planted in limestone soils, one of the defining soils of Sancerre. Sauvage is 100% organically cultured and fermented naturally, without the addition of yeasts. After 12 months of maturing on the lees, the wine is bottled without filtration or cooling, resulting in one of Pascal Jolivet’s purest expressions of terroir. SRP: $69.

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