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WINE VARIETAL : sauvignon blanc

Too Good to Miss
SAUVIGNON BLANC SERVES UP EXCEPTIONAL VALUE

BY TOM ELKJER, wine editor

One of my favorite one-liners about wine comes from Jean-Marie Guffens, who makes Chardonnay in the unfashionable southern stretches of Burgundy. “It has to be good,” he says slyly, “because it’s not expensive enough to be bad.”

The parallel in California is Sauvignon Blanc: a never-quite-fashionable white wine in a region known for Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. When we’ve paid $50 or more for a name-brand Napa Cab or Sonoma Chard, we can’t help but persuade ourselves that it’s worth every penny. Give us a Sauvignon Blanc for a third that price and it had better be good to the last drop.

That’s why I call Sauvignon Blanc California’s #1 value wine. It’s made by some extraordinarily talented and dedicated winemakers, in some of the finest grape-producing regions on earth. And it’s less expensive than just about everything else around it.
Furthermore, Sauvignon Blanc is made in a variety of styles to suit our drinking preferences. Nearly 40 years ago Robert Mondavi sparked new interest in “SB” as winemakers call it, by aging the wine in toasted oak barrels instead of stainless steel casks. The dark notes this imparted to the wine made it more interesting, and Mondavi added to the allure by giving it a new name: Fumé Blanc, or “smoked white.”

In the ensuing decades winemakers have come up with additional ways to vary Sauvignon Blanc’s flavors and textures. The most important is to limit the vines’ natural vigor, so they produce fewer grapes with more intense flavor. Another is to get the grapes riper by thinning the vines’ leafy canopy and letting in more sunlight. Yet another is to ferment the freshly picked grapes in oak barrels, so that the wine integrates a smoky quality from the beginning.

All these steps tend to make Sauvignon Blanc richer and creamier than grassy, herbal SBs from New Zealand or flinty, bracing Sancerre (as the wine is known in France’s Loire Valley). Yet the best versions from Sonoma and Napa have their own zingy acidity to keep the wine refreshing— it doesn’t coat your mouth, like Cabernet, instead it cleanses your palate for whatever is coming next. That’s why SB is such a great accompaniment to raw seafood and fresh fish: its makes their delicate flavors seem new with every bite.

~ Here are some of my current favorites ~
 


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