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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 2019 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: 2019 FIRE ROAD New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc $11.99
Premium Sauvignon Blancs
BAILLY 2019 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 Sold Out
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 2017 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 was.
The 2018 is a bit different...at least the one bottle we purchased from the
distributor was odd...very grassy and vegetal...pungent...will have to try this
again one day.
- 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 2019 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 replanted his Galleron Vineyard in Rutherford, so while 2018 also
incorporated some purchased fruit, we understand this 2019 is solely from
their estate vineyards. They DID buy Sauvignon Blanc from nearby
vineyards and could have used the Rutherford appellation, but thinking the
next few vintages might include fruit from farther away, they changed the
labels to simply "Napa Valley." As 2019 provided a fairly
large crop, winemaker John Williams tells us they sold off the
"non-estate" wine in the bulk market, so the 2019 is, in fact, all
from Frog's Leap's own vineyards.
That may not be the case though in upcoming vintages.
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 2019 is a mere 13.4%, 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 2019 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
- The famous Cabernet estate in St. Helena called Spottswoode has also
been producing top Sauvignon Blanc for many years. They grow their
own grapes, but these days augment their own production with fruit from
other notable vineyards such as Hyde in Carneros, Tofanelli in Calistoga
and Stagecoach on Atlas Peak. Add to the mix a Knights Valley
vineyard and a couple from nearby Sonoma Mountain and you have quite a
Then factor in four clones of Sauvignon Blanc, including the aromatic and
exuberant "Musqué" clone and a drop of Semillon and you can
understand why this wine is particularly special. There's a charm
and complexity which is quite enchanting. Notes of lime and other
citrus are fairly prominent here. Add to the mix a sort of tropical
fruit note...is that guava, papaya or pineapple?
It's a terrific wine for seafood especially....
Currently in stock: SPOTTSWOODE 2019 SAUVIGNON
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
- Here's a remarkably good source of Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma County's
Russian River Valley.
We recall meeting Merry Edwards back in the 1970s when she was vinifying
the exceptional wines of Mount Eden Vineyards in the Santa Cruz
Mountains. And in those days there were not many women in the
business of making wine.
She had taken the job at Mount Eden as winemaker while her then-husband,
Bill Miller, handled accounting chores. She was lured away by Sandra
Steiner (who later married Bill McIver) who was launching a winery in
Sonoma's Bennett Valley. Merry made some exceptional wines at the
Matanzas Creek winery and, during her tenure there, became an expert in
clonal research. Visiting the wine school in Beaune (Burgundy,
France) she became familiar with numerous clones of Chardonnay and Pinot
She then launched her own wine which was called Merry Vintners.
Having made such exceptional wines at Mount Eden and Matanzas Creek, her
Merry Vintners bottlings were a bit curious, frankly.
After a stint with another Sonoma winery, Laurier (or was it then called
Domaine Laurier??? These days that brand is owned by Fred Franzia!),
she bought a vineyard site which is the Meredith Estate. In 1997 she
made her first vintage of Merry Edwards wine, a Pinot Noir. With
that label she continued making successful wines, adding Sauvignon Blanc
to her repertoire in 2001.
She continued making exemplary wines and in 2019 sold the enterprise to
the Louis Roederer Champagne company, retiring in 2020. Merry had
groomed Heidi Von der Mehden to be her successor and that's who's at the
winemaking helm these days, having begun at this estate in 2015. She
took over as winemaker with the 2018 harvest.
Sauvignon Blanc is made, these days, using a significant percentage of
estate grown fruit. They are big fans of the Musqué clone of
Sauvignon Blanc and also say they use the "Shenandoah Clone"
which we believe is the UC Davis "Clone 1." This latter
clone is said to have been brought to California in the 1880s from the
famed Sauternes estate, Chateau d'Yquem. The UC Davis web site
indicates this clone is prominent in New Zealand where it's called UCD 1.
The juice is entirely fermented in French oak and they're fans of the
cooperage of Tonnellerie Cadus. Something like 18% of the barrels
are brand new. Following the fermentation the wine remains in wood
for half a year and they routinely stir the lees (the yeast sediment) a
couple of times a week to achieve a bit more texture and
It's certainly a good recipe and the wine is a terrific cocktail white as
well as a great partner with a variety of seafood dishes. We like
the ripe melon-like fruit and orange blossom notes. It's dry, of
course, and nicely acidic and crisp. It's a wine that is showy in
its youth and it seems to develop handsomely with a few years of bottle
aging, so you need not be in a rush to drink this.
Currently in stock: 2018 MERRY EDWARDS Russian
River SAUVIGNON BLANC $46.99
- 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 2019 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 2019 vintage is 69% Sauvignon and 31% 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 Bordeaux wine seems a tad less intense and yet its price
is now well over $100 a bottle.
Price aside, we'd pick the DeLille.
We routinely have seen customers buy a single bottle at our suggestion and
return saying how extraordinary this was and that they want several more
Currently in stock: 2019 DeLILLE Columbia
Valley/Washington CHALEUR BLANC $34.99
ERIC KENT WINE CELLARS
- Kent Eric Humphrey launched his Eric Kent brand, if we recall correctly,
with the 2003 vintage.
He had been in the world of advertising after studies at Cal in things
"French." and then he discovered wine. While many
winemakers train at scholastic institutions such as UC Davis or Fresno
State, Kent enrolled at Ballentine Vineyards and learned from winemaker
Bruce Devlin, before continuing his education with Bill Hunter at Chasseur
Our late colleague Bob Gorman was a big fan of the Eric Kent wines,
finding these to be a bit "old world" in style and
Bob was an art aficionado, too, so he was enthralled by the lovely art
adorning each bottle.
Kent's wife Colleen Teitgen is the curator of their lovely artist
labels. They have numerous artist friends whose works are featured
on bottles of Eric Kent wines.
Eric Kent "Sonoma" Sauvignon Blanc has been a favorite
here at Weimax. We understand there's some Sauvignon Musqué
in the blend and this contributes lovely aromatics to the wine. It's
bright, mildly citrusy and crisp and expressive example of Sauvignon Blanc along
with carrying a sensible price tag.
Currently in stock: 2019 ERIC KENT Sonoma SAUVIGNON
MORE SAUVIGNON BLANCS