Buying wine can be a pain staking challenge even for the most well exercised of wine buyers; so I can’t even imagine how confusing it might be for anyone that just wants a good bottle of wine without the confusion of all of the different wine varietals. It’s enough to make someone want to pull their hair out or bust open a bottle of ANY wine at the store and start drinking while you try to pick something. It’s overwhelming!
To make matters even more confusing, there are many wines on the market that have a variety of names even though they are the same thing. Case in point, Fumé Blanc vs. Sauvignon Blanc. They really ARE the same thing. Sauvignon Blanc is the grape while “Fumé Blanc” is the renaming of the American Sauvignon Blanc wine as a marketing tactic.
You see, back in the 1960’s Sauvignon Blanc didn’t have a lot of street cred. The American versions of the wine at that time were on the sweet side and less than exciting for most people. So Robert Mondavi (we ALL know that name, right?) took the initiative to visit France to see how they created their Sauvignon Blanc. He visited the regions of Loire Valley Sancerre and also the Pouilly-Fumé region whose Sauvignon Blanc at that time was called “Blanc Fumé.” Mondavi knew he could replicate this wonderful, oak aged, dry style and came home to the U.S. to do just that. Then he literally flipped the words “Blanc Fumé” to “Fumé Blanc” as a way to entice the American public to buy the Sauvignon Blanc without initially knowing what it was. And that, my friends, is how Fumé Blanc was born.
While the need to re-brand Sauvignon Blanc is no longer needed because almost all American Sauvignon Blancs are now dry and fuller bodied, you can still see bottles sometimes labeled as Fumé Blanc today because Mondavi never trademarked the name. Also, traditional American Sauvignon Blanc isn’t usually oak aged while the french versions are. Some American wineries that use the term Fumé Blanc oak age their Sauvignon Blanc to keep in the spirit of how Robert Mondavi did it. So there lies the one potential difference, but nowadays you can’t count on that.
So if you’re shopping for a Sauvignon Blanc and see Fumé Blanc instead, grab it! It’s the tasty Sauvignon Blanc you know and love! You can even impress your friends by bringing it to a dinner party and telling them this story giving YOU street cred as a bonafied wine historian. 😉
• Great Wine Made Simple, Andrea Immer Robinson