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 2016 Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp, fruity, typically-New-Zealand,
citrusy dry white. And it's got a modest price tag.
Currently in stock: 2016 FIRE ROAD New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc $10.99
Premium Sauvignon Blancs
BAILLY 2016 SANCERRE (List $24) SALE $19.99
- 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 2016 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 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 2015 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
FROG'S LEAP 2016 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' 2016, 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 2016 is a mere 12.8%, unheard of these days in California!
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, 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
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.
It's a delicious wine and a refreshing change from many high-octane
California wines. No oak. No splinters.
HONIG 2016 Napa SAUVIGNON BLANC $14.99
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 2016 "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 4% 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
Salvestrin family has a fairly long history in the Napa Valley, owning a
nice vineyard site in St. Helena that was part of the Dr. Crane estate,
way back when.
Making mostly red wines, they've been producing a rather nice Sauvignon
Blanc and this comes from a vineyard that's just east of the Silverado
Trail near the Sanitarium (we will refrain from our penchant for attempts
at humor and snarkiness).
The 2014 is a lovely example of Napa Sauvignon Blanc.
Part of the wine is vinified in stainless steel and roughly half in
neutral oak. It's bottled in late winter following the harvest, so
they capture the fresh notes reminiscent of lime, grapefruit and maybe
mango or guava. You can decide when you taste this for yourself.
It's dry and you wouldn't know the wine had seen the inside of a barrel.
Currently in stock: 2014 SALVESTRIN NAPA SAUVIGNON
Twomey label is the work of the Duncan family, owners of the Silver Oak
wineries in Napa and Sonoma.
They purchased a smallish cellar near Healdsburg (Sonoma) which was
originally the Roshambo winery. That place was owned by a nice young
lady who aimed her brand at kids close to her age, but the heavy metal
rock music, tattoos, piercings and tasting room displays of monkeys and
rodents with blood drippings apparently didn't meet with sales success.
Another winery was purchased in Calistoga (Napa) which had been built by
the Spaulding family ages ago when they made the wines under the Stonegate
Today Twomey is well-regarded for its Merlot, but they also are making
some really good Pinot Noirs and a terrific Sauvignon Blanc.
The 2015 Sauvignon comes from vineyards in four different
areas: One vineyard is in Oakville, another in Calistoga, a third near
Healdsburg and the fourth near Santa Rosa.
We like the citrusy notes...hints of lime and grapefruit...and the wine is dry
and crisp. No oak.
Currently in stock: 2015 TWOMEY Napa/Sonoma
SAUVIGNON BLANC $24.99
GREEN & RED WINERY
& Red might be the colors of Christmas or two of the three lights on a
traffic signal, but we view G&R as one of our favorite little Napa
Winemaker Jay Heminway started in the 1970s and we know his winery as a
source of sublime Zinfandel.
But he's been dabbling with Sauvignon Blanc for some time now and he's
honed in on a good 'recipe.'
With 2 acres of the "Musqué" clone of Sauvignon Blanc, the
vineyard faces north-east and this tempers the ripening of the fruit and
keeps the alcohol relatively modest. (The 2011 is below 14%, for
The juice is fermented in stainless steel and half the lot goes into
French oak for a 4 month sojourn before being blended back with the
The resulting wine has a lovely note of lemongrass and citrus fruit with
an underlying 'stony' note. It's dry, of course, and perfect with
seafood. Good value, too.
Currently in stock: 2012 GREEN & RED Napa
"Catacula Vineyard" Estate SAUVIGNON BLANC SALE $14.99
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: 2015 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 2015 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. 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: 2015 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.
His wines are routinely of good quality and they're well-made. Since
we're "friends of the family," the prices we offer are very
The 2016 vintage comes from a small site in the Dry Creek
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 2016 Dry Creek SAUVIGNON
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,
- 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
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
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 $26.99
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