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The World of Sauvignon Blanc
- Some people view Sauvignon Blanc as "poor man's
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".
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
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.
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
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
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.
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 $11.99
Premium Sauvignon Blancs
BAILLY 2018 SANCERRE (List $25) SALE
- 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
It's best with seafood...shellfish is an ideal accompaniment. Quite
good with Asian-styled seafood, too.
Monsieur & Madame Jacques Bailly.
DUCKHORN VINEYARDS 2018 Napa Valley SAUVIGNON BLANC $28.99
We have a few half bottles,
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
A tiny bit of the wine sees wood 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: 15% in the 2018 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!
SPRING MOUNTAIN VINEYARD 2017 Napa
SAUVIGNON BLANC $44.99
Spring Mountain Vineyard brand goes back to the late 1960s and early 1970s
when Mike & Shirley Robbins launched the brand out of a small
Victorian place along the St. Helena Highway a bit north of the Charles
Krug and Beringer wineries.
Robbins sold the original headquarters for his Spring
Mountain winery to an eye doctor named Dr. Bill Casey and that residence became
the St. Clement winery in the mid-1970s. The Spring Mountain winery was
then moved to Spring Mountain and the old Tiburcio Parrott estate.
Over the years, they were well-regarded for Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and
Cabernet, though they played around with Pinot Noir.
Sauvignon Blanc was made,. back in the old days, from grapes they purchased (for
the most part).
Today, the new ownership has purchased several Spring Mountain properties and
owns considerable acreage in this special appellation.
Now all the Sauvignon Blanc comes from their estate vineyards and the wine is
easily amongst the best in California.
If you have taste for top white Bordeaux wines, you'll likely be thrilled to
discover a California wine that can give the French a serious run for the money.
The 2017 vintage is 95% Sauvignon Blanc with the balance being Semillon.
The juice is settled for a brief spell and then moved into neutral French oak
cooperage where it ferments. It spent 9 months in wood and they stir the
yeast sediment periodically to add texture a complexity to the wine.
And what a wine this is! It may be too intense for some people, but if you
enjoy full-throttle Sauvignon Blanc, give this a try.
It's showing peachy and grassy notes, with a touch of ripe melon fruit.
The wine is dry and zesty on the palate, so pairing it with seafood or
Asian-styled cuisine is ideal.
We find this to be a very thrilling bottle of wine.
- FERRARI CARANO 2019 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 recently they've augmented production by getting grapes from
Mendocino (18%) and Lake (9%) counties.
Roughly one-third of the wine sees oak, but it's seasoned cooperage so you
won't detect the use of a barrel in this.
I find it a
bit fruity and not particularly acidic.
It's a simple, easy Sauvignon Blanc...
The winery, by the way, was sold to Foley Family Wines in 2020. Foley
owns the NHL Las Vegas Knights hockey team along with a bunch of California
The Ferrari-Carano holdings comprised nearly 1300 acres, boosting Foley's
vineyards in California.
FROG'S LEAP 2018 Napa Valley/Rutherford SAUVIGNON BLANC SALE
"Time's fun when you're having flies" is the winery motto. It's
also fun when you're drinking their wines.
John Williams is replanting his Galleron Vineyard in Rutherford, so this
2018 also incorporates some purchased fruit. As a result, it's not a
Rutherford-designated wine, but carries simply the Napa Valley
appellation. It 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 2018 is a mere 12.7%, 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
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 $25-$50 price tag is
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 particular, 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
The Frog's Leap 2018 is a delicious wine and a refreshing change from many high-octane
California wines. No oak. No splinters.
HONIG 2019 Napa SAUVIGNON BLANC $16.99
This family-run winery offers two bottlings of Sauvignon Blanc from the Napa
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 2019 "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 2.7% Semillon and there's all of three-tenths of a 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
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. These days the majority owners are John & Julia
Hinshaw. He's on the Board of Directors of the HSBC bank and had
been with Sysco Foods during his illustrious career.
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
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
The wine has lovely aromatics showing notes of citrus and
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 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
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: 2017 LAIL VINEYARDS Napa Valley
CLIFF LEDE WINERY
Oakville winery is making some terrific wines these days. Actually,
they began in the early 2000s and have been producing good wines from the
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.
Currently in stock: 2017 CLIFF LEDE Napa Valley SAUVIGNON BLANC
Cliff Lede winemaker Chris Tynan
Tasting at the winery...a nice visit, by the way.
HART'S DESIRE WINERY
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. Hart had been a microbiologist and
was a quality control specialist, so he's got a pretty good sense of the
chemistry of winemaking.
He has a little tasting room near
downtown Healdsburg and the winery, in an old mushroom "farm,"
is farther north in Geyserville. John's wife works in the nursing
business and her name is Desire, hence the name of the winery, Hart's
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.
we're "friends of the family," and have long been fans of John's
wines, the prices we are able to offer are very
The 2019 vintage comes from a small site in the Dry Creek
appellation. He typically produces just two or three barrels of
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 2019 Dry Creek SAUVIGNON
Gamble Family traces its Napa Valley history back to 1916 when Launcelot Gamble
established a cattle ranch and farm.
Things inched along in the direction of grapes and winemaking when the family
purchased a bit of land in Oakville in mid-1950s. The vineyards in the
1970s were devoted to wines made by the Beringer winery. Tom Gamble, the
owner of this enterprise these days, purchased his first vineyard lands in
1981. After decades of selling grapes, the Gamble Family winery was
launched around the 2005 vintage.
He built a winery in 2012 in Oakville and by 2013 the facility was ready for its
The winemaker is a British fellow named Jim Close who hails from London.
His family would periodically trek to France across the Channel to make a little
wine tour. He went to school in Scotland and worked in a little wine shop
which is where things started in a more serious vinous direction.
After a harvest as an intern in Southern France he made his way to California in
2000 for a harvest season but fell in love with the Golden State.
He partnered with Tom Gamble a few years later and has been making the wines
since the 2005 vintage.
Close says he and Gamble are not fans of "high octane wines," so they
strive for balance and drinkability.
We've found their Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon wines to be of
The 2018 Sauvignon Blanc comes from the Gamble Estate vineyard in
Yountville. It's a four clone mix of Sauvignon, including the aromatic Musqué
clone of Sauvignon Blanc. Seventy-five percent of the wine sees oak, while
rest remains in stainless steel to preserve the brilliantly citrusy notes.
Twenty percent of the oak is brand new and we like its contribution, giving a
hint of wood.
The wine reminds us of good white Bordeaux wines and it's not
terribly high in alcohol. The 2018 weighs in at 13.1% alcohol.
It's quite showy presently and a wine such as this is likely to develop
additionally with bottle aging. We find it quite appealing now, though.
Currently in stock: 2018 GAMBLE FAMILY
Yountville/Napa SAUVIGNON BLANC $26.99
- The DeLille winery is located in Woodinville, Washington and they
specialize in Bordeaux-styled wines.
We've long admired their "Chaleur Blanc" blend of Sauvignon
Blanc. It replicates the style we enjoy in the top white wines from
the Bordeaux "Pessac-Léognan" appellation. But
those French wines now sell for $100 typically (and more!).
DeLille's 2018 comes from three vineyard sites in
Washington's Columbia Valley. Klipsun, Bouchey and Sagemoor.
The grapes are whole-cluster pressed and the juice goes into French oak,
mostly, but they keep something like 10% in stainless steel. Sixty
percent of the barrels are brand new and this contributes some beautiful
wood spice notes to the wine.
The 2018 vintage is 71% Sauvignon and 29% Semillon in keeping with current
One wine critic likened it to the white of Domaine de Chevalier, but we find
it more like those from Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte from maybe 2005 to 2012,
or so. These days that wine seems a tad less intense and yet its price
is now well over $100 a bottle.
Price aside, we'd pick the DeLille.
Currently in stock: 2018 DeLILLE Columbia
Valley/Washington CHALEUR BLANC $34.99
Not many customers consider Austria a source of good Sauvignon Blanc,
but in fact there are some remarkable wines being made in the
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
They enjoy sharing this "discovery" with friends and people
are routinely surprised to learn that Austria makes good, aromatic,
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
- 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 (by
MORE SAUVIGNON BLANCS