Veraison - Grapes are ripening !!

Veraison -  Grapes are ripening !!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The many styles and tastes of California Sauvignon Blanc

This is the time of year when I start singing the praises of Rosé—that dry, palate cleansing, salmon-colored wine that brings the South of France spirit into your summertime dining.  However, I have been upstaged by the extensive
 coverage of Rosés in a recent San Francisco Chronicle issue, another in Wall Street Journal Wine, and a third in the June 30, 2014 issue of the Wine Spectator.  The latter also included some front page treatment and significant, free publicity for Brad and Angelina and their over priced Miraval Rosé that the distinguished Perrin family created for them.

Given that state of affairs, then I must move on to my summertime California white wine of choice—Sauvignon Blanc (SB), aka Fumé Blanc—which incidentally, is a non-copyrighted name for SB that was invented by Robert Mondavi in the mid to late 1960’s to overcome SB’s anemic level of consumer acceptance. (He added a little oak to differentiate it.)

Sauvignon Blanc’s popularity is far less than it should be, and it is my unsubstantiated claim that it is less fashionable and much less accepted simply because it is so very Un-Chardonnay.  That is, its inherent qualities and underlying personality are the exact opposite of Chardonnay’s.  It is not a full bodied, low acid, buttery, sweet tasting, vanilla loaded, tropical fruit bomb—which the style that many New World white wine drinkers seem to favor. 

Sauvignon Blanc is Chardonnay’s polar opposite—mineral driven, assertively crisp, medium bodied, highly aromatic with citric tones of grapefruit, lime, kiwi, green apple, plus a basketful of other garden greens.  One is like the sedate, well mannered Mary Poppins, while the other is the frenetic, shrieking Janice Joplin. Well . . . almost.     

In an effort to tone down that aromatic and flavor edginess and move the style toward a more softened, lush style, winemakers have dug into their winemaking tool boxes for a variety of style-altering methods that can include one or more of the following enrichments: blending in small percentages of one or more white wines (Semillon, Viognier, Muscat, Chardonnay, Musqué, Albariño,); a dash or more of oak seasoning via fermentation or aging (new and/or neutral barrels); or a little Chardonnay-like flourish with some stirring of the lees.   

While those methods typically create more character, complexity and aroma/flavor interest, the wine also becomes somewhat pricier. A wine’s provenance also has a price effect.  An anonymous California appellation will always cost less than a specific county, estate or vineyard designated wine.  As a general rule, then, the more expensive the wine, the more likely it has contains many, if not all of the aforementioned particulars.  In general, you get what you pay for, assuming you are receptive to those style-altering enrichments.

While I encourage you to sample your way through the various styles, the producers that follow are ones that I have sampled over the years and can safely recommend. At the very crisp, straightforward Sauvignon Blanc approach, the following are aromatic and flavorsome buys: Geyser Peak, Guenoc, Kenwood, Pomelo, Bogle, Dry Creek.  ($10 to $15 range)

With a slight step toward a bit more character and complexity from oak aging and/or the addition of a small percentage of Semillon or other wines, the following are sure to please: Honig, Morgan, Murphy-Goode, Mason, Cliff Lede, Simi, Ferrari-Carano Fume’, Voss, Groth, Matanzas Creek. Mondavi Fumé.  ($15 to $20 range.)

And in the upper echelon of provenance-proven, critically acclaimed producers, who are doing a slight head-fake toward being a White Meritage, you can’t go wrong with any of these: Merry Edwards, Grgich Hills Fumé, Duckhorn, Cakebread. Chalk Hill, Mondavi To Kalon and Hill Family. ($25 and up.) Each is decidedly different, but it is well worth your time to explore those differences.  (Please note how the “high end” prices compare to high end Chardonnay prices!)

The White Meritage wrinkle, of course, pays tribute to the Pessac-Leognan and Graves appellations in Bordeaux where some stunning white wines are made from the artful blending of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.  Some of the top echelon Bordeaux producers sell their whites, on a pre-arrival basis, in the mid to high three digit prices.  (You read that right!) The really good news, however, is we have a wide variety of some well made, satisfying, food friendly Sauvignon Blancs at a fraction of the price.    


  1. Tom: I couldn't agree with you more!
    Having had more than 30 Cali SB wines this year has been the catalyst for making SB my favorite White Wine.
    Merriam Vineyards Russian River Danielle's Estate 2013 Sauvignon Blanc being my best of show!

    1. Dennis,

      Thanks for your comments. I am unfamiliar with Merriam's SB, so I will have to search it out and give it a try. Yasoo levendi !