My wine choice for April has all the freshness of a spring shower about it – OK, we’ve possibly had more than our fair share of those, but this may be more welcome – and it comes from one of a clutch of clonal variants of Sauvignon Blanc: Sauvignon Gris. You may possibly have come across it in the Loire where it is grown in an arc from the Muscadet country in the north right through to the Central Vineyards – (not actually central to the Loire vineyards throughout their length but central to France itself). Wearing its French robes the variant is known alternatively in the Loire as ‘Fié Gris’ and although not permitted in Sancerre it seems to have become quite fashionable, even having lent itself as an increasingly successful adjunct to Sauvignon Blanc in Bordeaux. Elsewhere, given the well known zippy style of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris has recommended itself to local winegrowers as adding a slightly exotic and more fragrant touch to their mainstream production based on their distinctive clonal choices of the well-known parent vine. (Look up ‘methoxypyrazines’ online and you’ll get what classic NZ Sauvignon is all about in terms of its unique taste).

sauvignon gris grape variety

I dare say I am not equipped to discuss the intimacies of the parentage of the Sauvignon Blanc varietal in detail here, but we’re safe to say that Sauvignon Gris is a well-accepted, useful, if less familiar scion of the Sauvignon family as a whole. This possibly touches on the complex and controversial question of clonal selection in general, in which my own view must sound a trifle simplistic but, put understandably, vine growers overall will tend to plant the most suitable clonal cultivars of whatever vine types they are raising to meet the local conditions of climate, situation, soil type, general vigour and disease resistance prevailing within their own areas of production to give the best flavour profiles and yields possible in their own specific circumstances. Not exactly genetic engineering perhaps, though in terms of yields that topic was raised recently by the Princess Royal on the BBC’s Farming Today programme, but – as agriculturalists worldwide are increasingly aware – it is a matter of making commonsense choices in ‘what works best’ in giving a more specifically targeted result.

My own choice this month offers individuality at an affordable price in an attractive white wine which will certainly come into its own as warmer weather begins to head our way: Secano Estate Sauvignon Gris 2014. This is a wine tailored exclusively for Marks & Spencer Ltd which comes from vineyards of a well-known estate in the Leyda Valley in Chile. The natural benefit here is the closeness of the Pacific ocean and its cool Humbolt current, a factor offering slower ripening of the vines resulting in a greater intensity of the fruit flavours. This star-bright wine’s fragrance on the nose in combination with an immediate and juicy acidity on the palate reveals gently exotic and slightly orangey aromatics lying beneath, the off-dry background notes suggesting an ideal partnership with lightly spiced Asian food alongside, or sea-food dishes, particularly those featuring lobster or crab. (See recipe below)

As a footnote, you might be interested to know that Chile’s cultivation of Sauvignon Gris arose as the result of an importation mistake….apparently many years ago they had requested further stock of Sauvignon Blanc vines from France to furnish their expanding vineyards, and were sent ‘Gris’ in error. A stroke of luck now firmly embedded in Chilean wine culture.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Chile (Leyda Valley)
NAME OF WINE Secano Estate Sauvignon Gris 2014
STYLE Fresh un-oaked aromatic white
PRODUCER Secano Estate, Chile
ALCOHOL 14.0% abv
RETAILER Marks & Spencer
PRICE £9.50


INGREDIENTS (pastry and filling):

200g plain flour
175g chilled butter

3 eggs
500g crab meat, white and brown
1 egg yolk
300ml double cream
2 tbsp ice-cold water
2 tsp French mustard
1 heaped tbsp fresh tarragon leaves
2 tbsp Parmesan cheese


1. Blend the pastry ingredients together and set aside to chill for about an hour.
2. Roll out the pastry thinly to line a 24cm tart tin. Prick the bottom with a fork and put a lining of baking paper or foil on top of the pastry and add either ceramic baking ‘beans’ or dried beans as a weight to keep the lining in place. Chill again for 15 minutes and then bake ‘blind’ in a gas 5 / 375degF / 190degC oven for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, and allow to cool completely then remove the beans and lining paper.
3. For the filling, separate the eggs. In a bowl, mix the yolks with the cream and add seasonings of salt and pepper, the French mustard, the Tarragon leaves, chopped, and finally the crab meat. Stir gently to combine. In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites into stiff peaks and fold them gently and evenly into the crab mix using a spatula or a metal spoon.
4. Pour the mixture into the cooled pastry case and finish with a sprinkle of the grated Parmesan cheese.
5. Bake the tart in a gas 5 oven for 25-30 minutes. Once cooked the centre of the tart should remain very slightly wobbly. Allow to cool a little.
6. Serve warm with an accompaniment of watercress or salad leaves of your choice.