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The World of Sauvignon Blanc

Some people view Sauvignon Blanc as "poor man's Chardonnay."
Poor souls!

It's not Chardonnay, doesn't taste like Chardonnay and doesn't always match the same foods as Chardonnay! 

California's Sauvignon Blanc history doesn't go back very far.  

In the late 1960s Robert Mondavi played around with this grape.  He made a dry wine...didn't sell.  He made a dessert wine....didn't sell.  Then he took a cue from the Europeans and knowing there are Loire Valley Sauvignon Blancs called "Sancerre" and "Pouilly-Fumé", he coined the name "Fumé Blanc".  BINGO! 
A sexy name for Sauvignon Blanc and now the wine was selling like crazy!   He didn't trademark or copyright the name and so this term is one of Mr. Mondavi's gifts to the wine business. 
When the Fetzer winery was still a small business and family owned, they ran a little marketing test in their Mendocino tasting room.  They offered visitors two identical wines.  One was in a Bordeaux bottle, the other in a Burgundy bottle.   One was labeled Sauvignon Blanc, the other Fumé Blanc.  Despite the fact the wine in the glasses was identical, an overwhelming number of people had a definite preference for "Fumé Blanc".  Today Fetzer sells tons of "Valley Oaks Fumé Blanc". 

The style of wine is dependent upon the winemaker and the vineyard.  Some are made without oak, others clubbed to death with wood.  Some are fermented in barrel, others in stainless steel.  Some are cultivated in cool regions, making crisp, light wines; others are grown in warm regions and are big and rich.  You can find grassy notes in some Sauvignons, while others have vegetal notes and others display grapefruit, citrus and sometimes even a tropical fruit note.
 
In France's Loire Valley the wines of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé are 100% Sauvignon Blanc.  In France's Bordeaux, often the predominant grape has been Semillon, with a modest amount of Sauvignon Blanc.  These days it seems this has changed and now many wines are predominantly Sauvignon. Many 'serious' are usually fermented in wood and the oak typically plays an important part in the wine.  The wines of Bordeaux's Entre-Deux-Mers, though, tend to see little or no wood.

California has a broad spectrum of Sauvignons. The rest of world is now making good wine from this grape, too.  New Zealand has emerged as a prime area for this variety and we've tasted superb wines from Italy, South Africa, Austria, Spain, Australia and South America. 
 

Best Sauvignon Blanc Buys


 BLISS Mendocino SAUVIGNON BLANC $10.99
Irv Bliss was a pretty sharp fellow as it turned out.  He was enchanted by the landscape in Mendocino County in the 1930s.  Imagine trying to travel around that relatively isolated area in that time...few roads and poor when they existed.  
Far, far away from civilization...
Think how long it must have taken to drive there from San Francisco.
Today we think that drive is a snap.
 
The Brutocao family makes wines under their name and their forefather's.  

We used to feature a wine from Randy Mason as our pick for good, entry-level California Sauvignon Blanc.  But Mason sold his brand to the Sutter Home folks and the wine lost some of its charm and citrusy quality so we began the hunt for something else.  
We narrowed it down to two wines.  One had a more prestigious appellation and would be easier to sell, but we chose this Bliss Sauvignon Blanc because it was simply the better wine.

Dry, no oak...citrusy, lemony/grapefruity...good as a cocktail white and it's fine with seafood.





FIRE ROAD
We understand this is made by one of our favorite New Zealand vintners.  It's a label intended to be high quality/sensibly-priced with little or no fanfare in promotion, advertising, etc.


Their 2018 Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp, fruity, typically-New-Zealand, citrusy dry white.  Lots of grapefruit notes to this vintage.
And it's got a modest price tag. 

Currently in stock:  2018 FIRE ROAD New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc $10.99 



Premium Sauvignon Blancs

 

BAILLY 2018 SANCERRE  (List $25)
SALE  $22.99 750ml
 
 
 
This little producer in the Loire makes some delicious, crisp, tangy Sauvignon Blancs...classically Loire Valley . 

Jacques Bailly runs the show now that his father, Sylvain, is retired.  The Sancerre features the citrusy, minerally notes we love in Loire Valley Sauvignons.  A number of Sancerres arrive in the market for ridiculously high prices.  

Bailly's is fairly priced and top quality. 

It's best with seafood...shellfish is an ideal accompaniment.  Quite good with Asian-styled seafood, too.

 

 
 

Monsieur & Madame Jacques Bailly.


 

 


DUCKHORN VINEYARDS 2017 Napa Valley SAUVIGNON BLANC  $28.99
We have a few half bottles, too:  $14.99
duckhornsb.gif (16912 bytes)The Duckhorns decided they needed to have some sort of white wine to drink, given the summer heat in the Napa Valley.  With a number of vintages of Merlot under their belts, they decided to produce Sauvignon Blanc as their cool, refreshing white.  

The first vintage was 1982 and the wine has changed some over the years.  They veered off course from making bone dry Sauvignon with the addition of some Viognier, totally changing the wine from a Bordeaux-styled white to something completely different.  Happily the original recipe is being employed (or close to original).   The model for Duckhorn has been the white wines of Bordeaux, rather than the Sauvignons of the Loire Valley.

A bit of barrel-fermentation and some maturation period on the spent yeast (called the "lees") contributes a toasty element to the wine, but they have moved away from using as much oak as they did a decade, or so, ago.  
Duckhorn uses a substantial amount of Sémillon, too: 17% in the 2014 vintage.  The wine displays a bit of richness and ripe fruits such as mango and papaya, with a touch of lemon and orange.   Rather nice alongside seafood prepared with a citrus element.  


Italy's Marianna Pojer (Pojer e Sandri in the Trentino region) shows off some recently-pruned Sauvignon Blanc vines at the Duckhorn winery. The vines are nearly as young as Marianna!

 
 


FERRARI CARANO 2017  Sonoma "FUMÉ BLANC"  list $18  SALE $13.99
Located in Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley, this is an excellent place to cultivate Sauvignon Blanc.  The wine is a blend of Sauvignons from other locations within Sonoma and it's a light, dry, mildly herbal white wine.  

I find it a bit fruity and not particularly acidic.  Thirty-five percent of the juice is fermented in oak, but wood is not a major component in this melony white wine.




FROG'S LEAP 2017 Napa Valley/Rutherford SAUVIGNON BLANC  SALE $23.99

"Time's fun when you're having flies" is the winery motto.  It's also fun when you're drinking their wines.

John Williams' 2017, entirely from Rutherford-grown fruit, is mildly citrusy with an underlying grassy or herbal tone.  The past few vintages from Frog's Leap have been really good and they're one of the few wineries in California to make Sauvignon Blanc with modest levels of alcohol (always under 14%)...the 2017 is a mere 12.9%, unheard of these days in California!

Williams has been a proponent of wine from Rutherford-area vineyards and he's been farming organically well before that notion became a marketing mantra for many wineries.  Add to the equation, the vineyards are dry-farmed.  You'll hear many winemakers speak about dry-farming, but for Sauvignon Blanc, many growers irrigate the vineyards to boost crop levels.  
This explains why so many Napa and Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc wines are rather weak and empty.  Yields in the vineyards are high and vintners know with the magic word of Napa or Sonoma on the label, a $20-$30 price tag is guaranteed.

I asked John about some of the neighbor's wines and why he thought the wines needed to be so potent.  

He didn't point any fingers at his colleagues in partiocular, but did explain that many Sauvignon vineyards are over-cropped.  "I think they're trying to coax a bit of character out of the fruit by picking so late.  It's an attempt to cover-up their sin of over-cropping the vines." he told us.



The Frog's Leap 2017 is a delicious wine and a refreshing change from many high-octane California wines.  No oak.  No splinters.  

 

 

 


 




HONIG 2018 Napa SAUVIGNON BLANC $16.99

This family-run winery offers two bottlings of Sauvignon Blanc from the Napa Valley.  
They both are good wines, the "reserve" bottling having more oak, yet still displaying intense Sauvignon fruit aromas and flavors. It's really nicely done, with lots of vanillin and smoky notes.  It is now labeled simply as "Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc."


The 2018 "regular" bottling is quite good and typical of Honig's recent efforts.  They do some skin contact, we noticed when we visited during the harvest season...this contributes a bit of character to the wine according to winemaker Kristen Belair.

Most of the wine is fermented in stainless steel, but they do vinify a small percentage in wood that's neutral.  
They employ particular yeasts they think bring out the best characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc.
This vintage has 7% Semillon and there's all of one percent of Muscat to lift the aromatics.

It's a fragrant dry white, having notes reminiscent of Loire Valley Sauvignons and some elements we like in New Zealand wines.  About half the juice comes from Honig's own vineyards.  Very fine and price-worthy.
 

 

BLACKBIRD VINEYARDS

Blackbird is a relatively new enterprise that began as a Merlot specialist.

Michael Polenske launched this brand with the 2003 vintage, having purchased a young vineyard in Napa's Oak Knoll District, not far from Trefethen.

The winemaker is a fellow named Aaron Pott.  

Grapes for this wine are sourced from the Hudson Vineyard in Napa's Carneros and from the Bavarian Lion Vineyard in Sonoma's Knights Valley.  

It's 89% Sauvignon Blanc with 11% Semillon.  Some of the wine is matured in clay amphora containers and the rest is done in oak.  They credit the 16 weeks of lees stirring as greatly enhancing the wine.

We'd point to the wine coming from good quality, well-managed vineyards and being harvested at the right moment as helping create a showy Sauvignon Blanc.

The wine has lovely aromatics showing notes of citrus and melon.  

It's dry and fresh on the palate, with flavors confirming the notes we found on the nose.

You can easily enjoy this as a cocktail white, but it really shines in the company of seafood.


 
 
 
 

Currently in stock:  BLACKBIRD 2016 NAPA VALLEY "DISSONANCE" (Sauvignon/Semillon Blend) $28.99

 

 

 

LAIL

The Lail name is well-known in Napa Valley wine circles.

Robin Lail's uncle was John Daniel who owned Inglenook and he took over the winery from her great grand-uncle, Gustav Niebaum.

Robin was a partner with the Moueix family in founding the Dominus winery and she was an investor in the Merryvale winery when that winery got off the ground.

She cashed out of Dominus and Merryvale and devotes her attention to her own brand, named Lail.  Her husband, Jon Lail, was a famous architect in Napa Valley, designing both wineries and homes.

In 1995 she launched Lail Vineyards and has been making some good wines under her own banner.

We're fans of her Blueprint label...Blueprint.  Architect...(in case you can't, or didn't, make the connection)...

We think this comes from three vineyard sites, with grapes coming from St. Helena and Coombsville.  Part of the wine is fermented in new French oak and the wood gives just enough "seasoning" to the wine to produce something special. 

We like the lemongrass and lime blossom notes in this wine and there's just the right amount of wood framing the fruit.  It's quite deep and showy...

 

Currently in stock:  2015 LAIL VINEYARDS Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc $41.99

 

CLIFF LEDE WINERY

This Oakville winery is making some terrific wines these days.  Actually, they began in the early 2000s and have been producing good wines from the start.

Sauvignon Blanc came into their portfolio with the 2004 vintage and they've refined the recipe over the years.

The 2017 is a blend of fruit from 4 vineyard sites.  The main vineyard has Sauvignon Musqué and Semillon.  Also in the mix is a small percentage of Sauvignon Vert from a very old vineyard site (planted in 1947).  In fact, many vineyards in Northern California were planted not with Sauvignon Blanc, but Vert.  When Sauvignon Blanc became famous and prestigious, a lot of growers got out their pencils and erasers and suddenly, voila', the vineyard map showed they grew Sauvignon Blanc!

Cliff Lede ferments part of the wine in stainless steel, part in oak and a small percentage, just for kicks, in a concrete egg-shaped tank. 
 
The resulting wine is quite showy, with lovely citrus notes, a touch of quince, perhaps and a mildly herbal element.  It's dry, crisp, zesty and fresh, so pair it with some seafood or a seafood pasta.  

Quite good!

Currently in stock:  2017 CLIFF LEDE Napa Valley SAUVIGNON BLANC 26.99


Cliff Lede winemaker Chris Tynan


Tasting at the winery...a nice visit, by the way.

 

HART'S DESIRE WINERY

Winemaker John Hart is one of our favorite vintners.

He started as a home winemaker and things got out of control to the point it's high full-time occupation.  He has a little tasting room near downtown Healdsburg and the winery, in an old mushroom "farm," is farther north in Geyserville.


His wines are routinely of good quality and they're well-made.  
We brought an Italian winemaker friend to taste in 2018 and our friend was smitten by John's wines, being especially surprised to taste "Old World"-styled wines, not California fruit bombs.

Since we're "friends of the family," the prices we are able to offer are very consumer-friendly.

The 2017 vintage comes from a small site in the Dry Creek appellation.  

The wine has fresh, zesty, mildly citrusy notes of Sauvignon Blanc with a nod of the cap to its Dry Creek roots.

Dry, light and full-flavored...perfect with seafood.



Currently in stock:  HART'S DESIRE 2017 Dry Creek SAUVIGNON BLANC  $17.99

 

 



UMATHUM


Not many customers consider Austria a source of good Sauvignon Blanc, but in fact there are some remarkable wines being made in the Steiermark region.

The Burgenland area, just an hour south of Vienna, is even less of a consideration for Sauvignon Blanc.

But our friend Josef Umathum has been making good Sauvignon for a few years now and it's a wine that's much-appreciated by numerous Weimax customers.

They enjoy sharing this "discovery" with friends and people are routinely surprised to learn that Austria makes good, aromatic, flavorful Sauvignon.

We included this wine in a blind-tasting of Sauvignon Blanc in January of 2019...it fared beautifully and the tasters were surprised to discover such a wine from a region they don't associate with Sauvignon...

 

Umathum's displays mildly herbal notes of the Sauvignon grape and there's a bit of a citrusy quality, too.

And then it's attractively priced.


Currently in stock:  UMATHUM 2015 Burgenland SAUVIGNON BLANC  $17.99

 

TE MATA

We've become big fans of this venerable New Zealand winery.

Most New Zealand producers are rather new, being started in the past 20 years.  This estate has been making wine since the late 1890s!

They're in Hawke's Bay, not Marlborough, so you'll find their wine to be quite different from the mainstream Sauvignons from New Zealand.

Aside from a different terroir, Te Mata makes a wine more akin to a top white wine from Bordeaux than the grapefruity, citrusy wines we find from Marlborough country.

The juice is fermented in both new and seasoned French oak.  On top of barrel fermentation, they blend in a bit of Semillon and a tiny percentage of Sauvignon Gris.  

The resulting wine, as noted, is more reminiscent of a stylish white Bordeaux.  It's dry and there's a faintly toasty note from both its time in wood and the periodic lees-stirring.  

Currently in stock: 2014 TE MATA "CAPE CREST" SAUVIGNON BLANC  Sold Out

 

 



 

 

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