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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



POMELO 2014 SAUVIGNON BLANC $9.99
Randy Mason 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.





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 2014 Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp, fruity, typically-New-Zealand, citrusy dry white.  And it's got a modest price tag. 

Currently in stock:  2014 FIRE ROAD New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc $10.99 



Premium Sauvignon Blancs

 

BAILLY 2014 SANCERRE  (List $24)
SALE  $19.99 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 2014 Napa Valley SAUVIGNON BLANC  $27.99
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 2014  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 2014 Napa Valley/Rutherford SAUVIGNON BLANC  SALE $19.99

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

John Williams' 2014, 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 2014 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.  It's an attempt to cover-up their sin of over-cropping the vines." he told us.

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.

 

 




HONIG 2014 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 2014 "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 price-worthy.


SALVESTRIN

The 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 BLANC  $21.99

 

TWOMEY

The 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 label.

Today Twomey is well-regarded for its Merlot, but they also are making some really good Pinot Noirs and a terrific Sauvignon Blanc.

The 2014 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:  2014 TWOMEY Napa/Sonoma SAUVIGNON BLANC $24.99

 

 

GREEN & RED WINERY

Green & 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 wineries.

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 example.)

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 non-oaked portion.  

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

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 two or 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:  2014 LAIL VINEYARDS Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc $41.99

MASON CELLARS

Winemaker 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 2013 Napa SAUVIGNON BLANC $13.99

 

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 2014 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.  

Quite good!

Currently in stock:  2014 CLIFF LEDE Napa Valley SAUVIGNON BLANC 27.99


Cliff Lede winemaker Chris Tynan


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

 

94574

Yes, 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:  2013 94574 Napa SAUVIGNON BLANC $18.99

 



 

 

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