Day After Thanksgiving:
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
POMELO 2012 SAUVIGNON BLANC $9.99
offers this wine, made from Lake County fruit, at a most reasonable price.
His Mason label features a good $15 Napa Sauvignon and he's added a
whiz-bang bottling for $35. We've found the Pomelo label to be just
about the best value in a ten-buck California Sauvignon.
A Pomelo is some sort of citrus fruit that's native to Malaysia.
You'll encounter citrusy notes on the nose and palate of this light (that
means under 14% alcohol, a rarity in California!) wine. It's a good
cocktail wine and pairs well with seafood.
There's a case discount, too, making this even more enticing.
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 2013 Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp, fruity, typically-New-Zealand,
citrusy dry white. And it's got a modest price tag.
Currently in stock: 2013 FIRE ROAD New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc $10.99
Premium Sauvignon Blancs
BAILLY 2012 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 2013 Napa Valley SAUVIGNON BLANC $27.99
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: 16% in the 2013 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.
- FERRARI CARANO 2012 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 2013 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' 2013, 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 2013 is a mere 12.4%, 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." he told
- HONIG 2011 Napa Valley (Rutherford) SAUVIGNON BLANC
HONIG 2013 Napa SAUVIGNON BLANC $13.99
This family-run winery offers two bottlings of Sauvignon Blanc from the Napa
Valley. Theirs are some of the few really bone dry California Sauvignons still being
made, as many winemakers cater to the sweet tooth-palates which critique and write about
wine. 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 2013 "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.
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
Preston grew up in our neighborhood and he has been in Sonoma's Dry Creek
Valley since the 1970s.
I remember showing some senior citizen a bottle of Preston wine back in the
late 1970s and explained this was the work of a fellow named Lou Preston.
"Little Louie Preston!?!" she shrieked. "He grew up in
my neighborhood and now he's a winemaker?"
Little Louie was one of our favorite producers of Zinfandel and Sauvignon
Blanc back in those early days. And every once-in-a-while we find a
nice wine from the Prestons.
We currently have a rather nice 2010 Dry Creek Sauvignon Blanc. The
wine represents a beautiful rendition of "Dry Creek" terroir, for
one thing and it retains a nice quality which bespeaks of Sauvignon
The viticulture has been of "organic" farming for quite some time
now. And Lou's enologist has been letting the ambient yeasts do their
thing, which they credit for helping highlight the character of their
particular Dry Creek-ocity.
The wine has some nice grassy sorts of notes with a melon and grapefruit
quality. There's a touch of minerality lurking in there as well.
It's a nice throw-back to the days before winemakers went nuts with letting
the grapes get over-ripe. As a result, there's a nice tangy acidity
here and the wine is below 14% alcohol.
If you're having a vegetable-sauced pasta or risotto, this will work
nicely. It's also pretty tasty with shellfish, so crab, calamari and
prawns all fit nicely here.
- Currently in stock: 2010 PRESTON Dry Creek Valley SAUVIGNON
BLANC Please stop by for special pricing...
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: 2011 GREEN & RED Napa
"Catacula Vineyard" Estate SAUVIGNON BLANC $19.99
now for something completely different...
Winemaker Kevin Kelly produces an amazing Sauvignon Blanc
which you'll either find enchanting or hate.
It's called 25 Reasons as there are 25 ounces in a bottle. To buy a
bottle, however, you need a mere 23 Reasons (25 with the tax, though).
This is a wacky wine and it's not for everyone. The
Sauvignon Blanc was fermented on the skins, along the lines of a red wine
fermentation. No added yeasts...no sulfur and it's fermented to dryness,
so no sugar. It's mostly from the 2011 vintage with a small amount from
2009 and 2010. To get it fizzy, the wine is about 10% from the 2012
vintage which was still fermenting when they added it to the blended wine.
As the bottles are sealed with a crown cap, the carbon dioxide has no place to
go other than into solution, making the wine a bit bubbly.
Petillant, if you prefer. Or fizzy.
It's a wine which can not be duplicated. Only 500 cases
Currently in stock: TWENTY FIVE REASONS Sauvignon
Randy Mason is an "old master" in the art of Sauvignon Blanc.
We first knew his work when he was winemaker for the Lakespring winery in
Napa. Then he was running the cellar at the Napa Wine Company in
Oakville where he still makes the Mason Cellars wines.
Sauvignon Blanc is especially good.
It comes from a valley floor vineyard in Yountville. The juice
undergoes a cold, extended fermentation in stainless steel. A small
fraction is left on the spent yeast and the sediment is stirred in an
effort to create a bit of texture in the wine.
Mason bottles it when it's young and fresh, capturing the beautiful melon
and citrus notes of the Sauvignon Blanc. The wine rivals Honig's
Sauvignon for "Best Napa Valley Value" wine.
Currently in stock: MASON 2012 Napa SAUVIGNON BLANC
Quivira winery has been around since the early 1980s, but it's
below-the-radar for most people.
The brand was established by the Wendt family and then purchased by Terri
and Pete Kight in 2006.
Under the new ownership we've seen an improvement in quality. The
Kights are big proponents of organic and biodynamic farming. They've
also increased the vine density in the vineyard with lower yields in hopes
of increasing wine quality.
Apparently this works.
The wines made by Quivira are largely from their own estate
vineyards. Only a Dry Creek Zinfandel comes from non-Quivira
The winemaker is Hugh Chapelle who'd spent time at Madrona in the Sierra
Foothills as well as Flowers in the Sonoma Coast region. Lynmar is
another tattoo he's had. Chapelle has been with Quivira since 2010.
Their simple "Dry Creek Valley" Sauvignon Blanc comes from
several vineyard sources, including their famed "Fig Tree"
Vineyard. The juice was fermented entirely in stainless steel,
though some vintages they'll put some of the wine in wood. No
malolactic, as they wanted to preserve the citrusy, pineappley notes of
the Sauvignon Blanc.
And they've done just that. It's a delicious rendition of Sauvignon
and one of the few "Dry Creek" Sauvignons remaining on the
Currently in stock: 2011 QUIVIRA Dry Creek
SAUVIGNON BLANC $13.99
I had the same thought as you're having right now: What a bunch of
creative geniuses to select a Zip Code as the 'brand name' for a winery!
After all, so many wineries ARE named with geographical
references...names such as Rutherford, Napa, Calistoga, Carneros, Sonoma,
Dry Creek and Kenwood are found on various bottles of wine, so why not
a Zip Code?
Of course, since nothing's ever as it seems these days (am I
wrong on that?), the vineyard where this Sauvignon Blanc is grown is actually in
Rutherford, where the Zip Code is 94573. The 94574 Zip Code is for St.
Helena which is where the mailing address for this little enterprise is located.
We were tipped off to this wine by Sir Charles Bolton, noted local bon
vivant and world traveler. He'd tasted it while on a business trip to
Washington, DC and asked if we could track down this wine. We did, tasted
the wine and liked it well enough to stack it in the shop.
We like the citrusy tones of this wine. It's dry and mildly stony, with a
crisp, almost flinty note.
Currently in stock: 2012 94574 Napa SAUVIGNON BLANC
MORE SAUVIGNON BLANCS