Most wineries in California are content to produce one sauvignon blanc wine. Some offer a “regular” sauvignon blanc and a “reserve” bottling. And a few make (or attempt to make) a distinction between a sauvignon blanc style and a so-called fumé blanc style. Only Dry Creek Vineyard, as far as I can tell, produces four wines from the sauvignon blanc grape.

First, a bit of history.

At one time, the sauvignon blanc grape was treated as a stepchild in California. If it was not used in blending to make innocuous jug wines, it was produced in a semi-sweet fashion to appeal to what was thought of as the rather simpleminded palate of American consumers. Robert Mondavi changed all that in 1966 by bottling a dry sauvignon blanc under the name “fumé blanc,” a take-off on the Pouilly-Fumé appellation at the eastern edge of the Loire Valley region, where the sauvignon blanc wines display a sort of smoky (“fumé”) aspect. Winemakers in California leaped on this term and immediately began to differentiate between two styles of sauvignon blanc wines, the “fumé blanc,” Loire Valley style and the more elegant and austere “sauvignon blanc” Bordeaux style. Often these distinctions were made visual by the package; fumé blanc wines were produced in the slope-shouldered Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume bottle, and sauvignon blanc wines were produced in the high-shouldered Bordeaux-type bottle.

As the decades progressed, these differences became more theoretical, and it seems that fewer wineries use the term “fumé blanc” or the Loire-style bottle these days, a hold-out being Ferrari-Carano, whose Fumé Blanc can be found on restaurant wine lists across the land.

So, does Dry Creek Vineyard need four wines made from sauvignon blanc grapes? That’s their choice, of course — practically and economically — but only if real distinctions can be made among the wines.
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The Dry Creek Vineyard Fumé Blanc 2008, Sonoma County, made all in stainless steel, is as fresh as a daisy and as clean as a whistle. Lively scents of kiwi and lime peel, fennel and grapefruit, with hints of melon and dried thyme and tarragon, make for an irresistibly appealing bouquet. The wine is very dry, crisp and snappy; flavors of smoky lemon are a little grassy, with a bit of leafy fig in the background, all encompassed in a texture that neatly marries the litheness of limestone minerality to a slightly lush quality. This sauvignon blanc carries a Sonoma County designation between the grapes derive from Russian River Valley and Dry Creek Valley. The alcohol content is 13.5%. Widely available. Very Good+. About $12, a Great Bargain.
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Where the Dry Creek Fumé Blanc 2008, Sonoma County, is brash and buoyant, the Dry Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Dry Creek Valley (a new release for the winery), is restrained and elegant, at least in the nose. The color is pale straw with a faint green cast; intense aromas of almond blossom, orange rind, Key lime and jasmine gently unfold. In the mouth, the wine is dry and zesty and vibrant with crisp acidity; flavors of pear, melon and yellow plum contain a hint of leafy fig at the core, along with a touch of grass and hay. The finish brings in a little chalk and limestone to round out the effect of depth and elegance. Lovely texture and balance make this an extremely attractive wine, with pleasing personality and tone. The wine includes six percent sauvignon musqué, an aromatic clone of sauvignon blanc. Production was 9,649 cases. Alcohol is 13.5%. Excellent. About $16, Great Value.
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Next in the roster is the Dry Creek Vineyard DCV3 Estate Fumé Blanc 2007, Dry Creek Valley. Made from the winery’s original vineyard planted in 1972 (the first planting of sauvignon blanc in Dry Creek Valley), this wine of crystalline purity and intensity offers aromas of pear and melon, ginger and quince, lime peel and a sort of dusty chalky quality. Exquisitely textured, it’s a sauvignon blanc of pinpoint focus and clarity, with every element feeling locked into place yet generous and expansive. Flavors are dominated by grapefruit, pear and lemongrass lent scintillating effect by laser-like acidity and limestone-and-shale-like minerality. A beautiful sauvignon blanc, shapely yet elegantly spare. 394 cases were produced. Alcohol is 13.5%. Drink through 2011. Excellent. About $25.
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Here’s where I part company with Dry Creek’s quartet of sauvignon blanc wines. The Dry Creek Taylor’s Vineyard Musqué 2007, Dry Creek Valley, illustrates, at least to this palate, the inappropriateness of bottling the musqué clone on its own. Yes, as a blending grape it can bring a fine floral element to sauvignon blanc, but as a 100 percent varietal wine I find that it lacks vividness and verve. Sure the bouquet on this example is an appealing melange of peach and apricot, a little sweetly ripe and tropical, and yes, there’s a hint of jasmine and honeysuckle, but I would like a bit more zing in the fairly plush texture and a little less than 14.5% alcohol in the slightly hot finish. Pleasant in its way, but it doesn’t work for me as a model of balance or authority. 333 cases. Very Good. About $25.
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These wines were samples for review.
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