Sauvignon blanc


I suspect that while many readers may find the annual roster of “50 Great Wines” interesting, they don’t necessarily find it essential. Today’s post, however — “30 Great Wine Bargains of 2017” — I hope will be greeted with expectation and gratitude. Who doesn’t love a bargain, especially when the price is attached to a wine that performs above its weight and class? Prices on this list range from about $7 to $20. Twenty-five of these selections rate Excellent, with the next five rated Very Good+, and each one offers a hefty and distinguishing serving of quality. The breakdown by genre is 15 white, 13 red and 2 rosé. By country or state: Italy 7; California 6; France 5; Spain 3; Germany 2; and one each from Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Oregon, Portugal, South African and Washington. Whatever, it’s not the statistics that count but the wine inside the bottle. Many of these models I would recommend for buying by the case to enjoy in the months ahead, in moderation, of course.

These wines were samples for review.
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Alain de la Treille Chinon 2015, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent cabernet franc. Excellent. About $19.

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Armas de Guerra Mencia Rosado 2016, Bierzo, Spain. Rosé of 100 percent mencia grapes. Excellent. About $13.

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Aveleda Vinho Verde 2016, Portugal. 70 percent loureiro grapes, 30 percent alvarinho. Very Good+. About $7-$10.

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Averaen Pinot Noir 2015, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $20.
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Weingut Binz Nackenheimer Pinot Gris Kabinette 2015, Rheinhessen. Excellent. About $14.

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Camino Roca Altxerri 2015, Getariako, Spain. 100 percent hondurrabi zuri grapes. Excellent. About $16.
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Chelsea Goldschmidt Merlot 2015, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $19.

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Contrade Negroamaro 2015, Puglia, Italy. Very Good+. About $10.

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Chateau La Freynelle 2015, Bordeaux Blanc. 60 percent sauvignon blanc, 30 percent semillon, 10 percent muscadelle. Very Good+. About $13.
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Maquis Gran Reserva Carménère 2014, Colchagua Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $20.
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Marchesi di Gresy Barbera d’Asti 2015, Piedmont, Italy. Excellent. About $18.

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Masseria Li Veli Verdeca 2015, Valle d’Istria, Apulia, Italy. 90 percent verdeca grapes, 10 percent fiano minutolo. Excellent. About $18.

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Luli Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 504 cases. Excellent. About $18.

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Mercer Estate Sharp Sisters Red Blend 2015. Horse Heaven Hills, Washington. 29 percent cabernet sauvignon, 27 percent syrah, 18 percent merlot, 14 percent petit verdot, 10 percent grenache, 2 percent carignane. Excellent. About $20.
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Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc 2016, North Canterbury, New Zealand. Excellent. About $16.
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Olema Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma County. Second label of Amici Cellars. Excellent. About $20.

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Olianas Vermentino 2016, Vermentino di Sardegna. Excellent. About $15.

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Paul Durdilly “Les Grandes Coasses” 2016, Beaujolais, France. Excellent. About $15.

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Principe de Viana Garnacha Roble 2015, Navarra, Spain. Very Good+. About $11.
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Renwood Premier Old Vine Zinfandel 2014, Amador County, California. With 6 percent petit sirah, 5 percent barbera, 4 percent syrah. 50-to-103-year-old vines. Excellent. About $20.
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The Royal Old Vines Steen Chenin Blanc 2016, Western Cape, South Africa. Very Good+. About $11.

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Castel Sallegg Gewürztraminer 2015, Südtirol-Alto Adige, Italy. Excellent. About $16.
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Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2016, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $16.
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St. Urbans-Hof Nik Seis Wiltinger Alte Reben Riesling 2015, Saar Valley, Germany. Excellent. About $18.
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Tenuta Sant’Antonio Monti Garbi 2014, Valpolicella Superiore Ripassa. Excellent. About $19.
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Serra Lor Rosato 2016, Isola dei Nuraghi, Sardenia. An unusual rosé blend of 50 percent cannonau, 25 percent monica, 20 percent carignano and 5 percent bovale grapes. Excellent. About $15.

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Steele Wines Pinot Blanc 2016, Santa Barbara County, California. Excellent. About $19.
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Chateau Tire Pé “Diem” 2012, Bordeaux. 100 percent merlot, no oak. Excellent. About $12.

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Valley of the Moon Pinot Blanc Viognier White Bland 2015, Sonoma County. 85 percent pinot blanc, 15 percent viognier. Excellent. About $18.
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Vincent Crémant de Bourgogne Brut nv, Burgundy, France. Excellent. About $20.

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The prices of these 50 Great Wines of 2017 range from an unprecedented $15 to a whopping $250. Not that I expect My Readers to hasten out and snatch up a bottle of wine that costs $250, but when an extraordinary wine crosses my horizon and I rate it “Exceptional,” well, it goes on this list no matter the price. That’s one of the criteria for this annual roster: Every wine I rated Exceptional in 2017 is included automatically, followed by wines I rated Excellent and that I go back through the reviews and parse very carefully. Now I’m sure My Readers understand that by “50 Great Wines” I’m not saying that these are the 50 greatest wines in the world, just that they’re great wines — as I interpret greatness — that I tasted during the year in question. What makes a wine great? Purity, intensity, integrity, authenticity, as well as a sense of individuality and, if possible, a connection to a region or, in more rarefied examples, to a vineyard. Not all wines, even great ones, display this spectrum of virtues completely; winemaking is too intuitive a craft to allow for cookie-cutter sameness. Often, it’s the differences among wines from vintage to vintage that make them intriguing and exciting. I hope the wines listed here pique your interest and that you have a chance to try some of them. Many of them are entrancing and beautiful, and we could all stand a little enchantment and beauty in our lives.
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Alois Lageder “Porer” Pinot Grigio 2015, Alto Adige, Italy. Excellent. About $25.
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Bonny Doon Vineyard Old Telegram 2014, Contra Costa County. 100 percent mourvedre. 277 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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Brooks Wine “Janus” Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley. Exceptional. About $38.

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Capofaro Didyme Malvasia 2016, Salina, Sicily. Excellent. About $25.

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Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley. Excellent. About $35.
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Duckhorn Three Palms Vineyard Merlot 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $98.

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Champagne Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru Brut Tradition nv, Champagne, France. 70 percent pinot noir, 30 percent chardonnay. Excellent. About $68.

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Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2016, St. Helena, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $32.

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Enzo Bianchi Red Wine 2012, San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina. 75 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent cabernet franc, 8 percent petit verdot, 7 percent malbec. Excellent. About $55.

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Esporão Private Selection 2011, Garrafeira, Alentjo, Portugal. 40 percent each aragonez and alicante boschet, 20 percent syrah. Excellent. About $65.
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Fathers & Daughters Ella’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 110 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
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Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Yountville, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $25.

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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Russian River Valley. 393 cases. Excellent. About $32.

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Ghost Hill Cellars Bayliss-Bower Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Yamhill-Carlton district, Willamette Valley. Exceptional. About $42.

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Grgich Hills Estate 40th Anniversary Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $50.

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Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection “Essence” Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 646 cases. Exceptional. About $55.
The label vintage date is one year behind.
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Grgich Hills Estate Paris Tasting Commemorative Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley. 942 cases. Exceptional. About $94.

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Heitlinger Tiefenbacher Schellenbrunnen Trocken Riesling 2014, Baden, Germany. Exceptional. About $30.

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Inman Family Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 672 cases. Exceptional. About $35.
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Iron Horse Chinese Cuvée 2012, Green Valley of Russian River Valley. A brut rosé, 76 percent pinot noir 24 percent chardonnay. 300 cases. Excellent. About $65.
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Domaine Jessiaume Les Cent Vignes Beaune Premier Cru 2014, Beaune, Burgundy. 300 cases. Excellent. About $45.

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Jordan Vineyards Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley. Excellent. About $32.

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Cantina Kaltern Pfarrhof “Kalterersee” Classico Superiore 2015, Südtirol-Alto Adige, Italy. 95 percent schiava. 5 percent lagrein. Excellent. About $24.
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Dr. Konstantin Frank Gewurztraminer 2015, Finger Lakes, New York. Exceptional. About $15.
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Chateau Lagrezette Le Pigeonnier 2011, Cahors, France. 100 percent malbec. 1,070 six-bottle cases. Exceptional. About $250.
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La Jota Vineyard Co. Howell Mountain Merlot 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $85.

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Lioco “Sativa” Carignan 2014, Mendocino. 650 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Louis Picamelot Cuvée Jean Baptiste Chautard 2012, Crémant de Bourgogne. 77 percent chardonnay, 23 percent aligote. Excellent. About $38.
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Domaine Marc Roy Les Champs Perdrix 2015, Marsannay, Burgundy. 100 percent chardonnay. 175 cases. Excellent. About $50.
The vintage date on the label image is one year behind.
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Mayacamas Vineyards The Terraces Special Bottling Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $95.
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Chateau Montelena “The Montelena Estate” Cabernet Sauvigono 2013, Calistoga, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $160.

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Morgan Winery Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 45 cases. Exceptional. About $60.
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Onward Wines Capp-Inn Vineyard Skin-Fermented Malvasia Bianca 2015, Suisun Valley, Solano County. Exceptional. About $28.
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Paul Blanck Scholssberg Grand Cru Riesling 2012, Alsace. Excellent. About $34.
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Penner Ash Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley. 915 cases. Exceptional. About $65.

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Chateau Peybonhomme-les-Tours “Le Blanc Bonhomme” 2016, Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux. 50 percent each sauvignon blanc and semillon. Excellent. About $22.

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Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc 2014, Oakville District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $40.
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Sidebar Kerner 2016, Mokelumne River, Lodi. 193 cases. Excellent. About $25.

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Siduri Wines Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Excellent. About $35.

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Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. With 12 percent cabernet franc and 6 percent merlot. Excellent. About $50.
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Smith-Madrone Riesling 2014, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 1,551 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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Stewart Cellars Beckstoffer Las Piedes Vineyard “Nomad” Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley. 180 cases. Exceptional. About $175.
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Stony Hill Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $48.

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Tongue Dancer Wines “Pinot de Ville” Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast. 125 cases. Excellent. About $65.

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Troon Kubli Bench Blanc 2016, Applegate Valley, Oregon. 55 percent marsanne, 45 percent viognier. 180 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Domaine Weinbach Grand Cru Schlossberg Riesling 2013, Alsace. Exceptional. About $40.
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Yount Ridge Cellars Epic Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $250.

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Yount Ridge Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 160 cases. Exceptional. About $35.

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ZD Winery Founder’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2013, Carneos. 800 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
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Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2014, Alsace. Excellent. About $26.

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If you’re like me — and I’m certain that in many ways we are alike and in many, probably more important ways we are not — the words “Arroyo Seco” would not burst from your lips if someone asked you, “Where in the world are the best places for growing the sauvignon blanc grape?” Still, I recently tasted six examples from that AVA in Monterey County and found them mainly excellent and even, in a few cases, not only excellent but highly individual. Arroyo Seco, which receives on average 13 inches of rain annually — hence “seco” — was granted AVA status in 1983, though wine grapes have been grown there commercially since 1961. The terrain varies considerably for a smallish AVA, consisting of a bit more than 18,000 acres, about 7,000 planted to vines, with narrow ravines, benchlands, dry riverbed and valley floor and the resulting diversions of wind, fog and temperature. What these wines have in common, aside from their origin in the same AVA, is a use of the musqué clone of the sauvignon blanc grape to varying degrees. As the name implies, the musqué clone imparts a musky, almost muscat-like quality to the wines, usually apparent in a marked floral, sometimes overtly spicy element. The clone must be used carefully. I have tried sauvignon blanc influenced by musqué that were so intensely perfumed as not to even seem like wine. The six models mentioned in this post, thankfully, are better balanced.

As usual with the Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew data of a historical, geographical and personnel nature for the sake of incisive notices ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks, my desire being to pique your interest in the wines.

These wines were samples for review.
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Bernardus Griva Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Arroyo Seco. 13.9% alc. With 5% semillon. Very pale straw-gold with green highlights; ripe and spicy pineapple and lemon, notes of lime peel and lemon balm and a hint of fig, fresh grass and hay in the background; a leafy and sunny sauvignon blanc, powered by bright acidity and a chiseled limestone element; bracing elements of grapefruit and tangerine peel round the finish. Excellent. About $30.
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Chesebro Wines Cedar Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Arroyo Seco. 12.4% alc. Very very pale, almost colorless; grapefruit, lime peel and lemongrass, with whiffs of greengage and ground cumin, fennel and celery seeds; very dry, delivers a huge hit of flint and limestone, as well as rousing acidity and a note of bracing grapefruit rind bitterness on the finish. Makes a definite impression. Excellent. About $18, available to winery club members only.
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J. Lohr Estates Flume Crossing Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Arroyo Seco. 13.8% alc. Very pale straw-gold hue; a pert and sassy sauvignon blanc, with notes of gooseberry, lime peel and grapefruit, fennel seed, lilac and acacia; nicely herbaceous on the palate, with a talc-like texture jazzed by vibrant acidity; a clean, bright and lively sauvignon blanc offering lots of appeal. Very Good+. About $14.
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Luli Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Arroyo Seco. 14.2% alc. 504 cases. Pale gold color; a stirring bouquet of lemongrass and lime peel, lychee and gardenia, tangerine and pear, with undertones of quince and crystallized ginger; lithe and supple on the palate, propelled by resonant acidity and scintillating limestone elements, all enfolded in a subtle haze of neutral oak; the finish blends spice and minerals, with herbaceous nuances. A joy to drink. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Mercy Wines Zabala Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Arroyo Seco. 13.5% alc. 176 cases. Pale straw hue; quite fresh and appealing, with hay and heather notes, tangerine, roasted lemon and yellow plum, melon, acacia blossom and a tinge of celery seed; crisp and vital with chiming acidity and vivid limestone and flint elements; lovely balance and immensely drinkable. Excellent. About $24.
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Muirwood Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Arroyo Seco.13.5% alc. Very pale straw-gold; roasted lemon and tangerine, celery seed, fennel and gooseberry; a hint of ripe peach; really lovely texture, exquisite balance between moderate talc-like lushness and dynamic crispness; racy, lively and alluring, with spicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors ending in a refreshing grapefruit finish. Excellent. About $15, marking Good Value.
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In The Bordeaux Atlas and Encyclopedia of Chateaux (St. Martin’s Press, 1997), Hubrecht Duijker and Michael Broadbent write that Chateau Peybonhomme-les-Tours “can be recognized from afar by its two towers” — les tours — “a round crenellated keep and a detached square tower with embrasures, dating from Huguenot times.” The Huguenot era in France would be the mid- to late- 17th Century. In the old postcard image reproduced here, one of those towers is visible, with beyond it a classic mid-18th Century chartreuse structure that features a large, two-story central hall with a wing on each side containing rooms that open into each other. Beyond that is a 19th Century addition and, farthest from the viewer, the estate’s chapel. The 58-hectare property (153 acres) stands on the right bank of the Gironde river in the Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux appellation. Chateau Peybonhomme-les-Tours — certified organic and biodynamic — is owned by Catherine and Jean-Luc Hubert; she is the fifth generation of her family to farm the vineyards, with the help of her husband and their son Guillaume. The family also owns Chateau La Grolet in nearby Côtes de Bourg. Red wine is made at Peybonhomme-les-Tours, but my intention today is to introduce My Readers to the estate’s white wine, in this case the Chateau Peybonhomme-les-Tours “Le Blanc Bonhomme” 2016, a half-and-half blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon grapes. We were thoroughly charmed by this delightful and thoughtfully-made wine. The color is very pale straw-gold; aromas of green apple and pear, tangerine and damp slate, lilac and camellia are immediately attractive, while a few minutes in the glass add notes of quince and ginger, heather and celery leaf. It’s a white wine of crystalline purity and intensity, taut with bright acidity yet offering a lithe, slightly talc-like texture; subtle stone-fruit flavors are sustained by a scintillating limestone component and a wafting of an almost subliminal grassy-herbal element; the finish seems to partake of the salt-bearing sea-breeze blowing down the river from the Atlantic. Lovely balance and integration. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $22, signifying Remarkable Value. A great choice for buying by the case as your house white wine or for restaurant by-the-glass programs.

Imported by Fruit of the Vines, New York. A sample for review.
Postcard image from candidwines.com.

I wonder why the people at Grgich Hills Estate feel it necessary to include on the label of their Fumé Blanc wines the script “Dry Sauvignon Blanc.” Is anyone out there in America worried about picking up by mistake a bottle of sweet sauvignon blanc? I seriously doubt it. Anyway, rhetorical questions aside, the Grgich Hills Fumé Blanc 2015, Napa Valley, displays all the virtues of a wine that’s always one of my favorites and a high point in tasting the sauvignon blanc grape every year. Made from certified organic vineyards, the wine aged six months on the lees in neutral oak barrels, 20 percent in the standard 59-gallon barriques, 80 percent in large old foudres of 900-gallon capacity. It offers a pale straw-gold hue and arresting aromas of roasted lemon and lemon balm, celery seed and lemongrass, lilac, gunflint and graphite. As is typical of this wine — winemaker is Ivo Jeramaz — the texture is seductively soft and almost talc-like while being animated by vivid acidity, factors that create a lovely sense of tension and balance between lushness and crispness, all at the service of herb-inflected stone-fruit flavors. A few moments in the glass bring in notes of leafy fig and fennel seed, quince and ginger; the finish feels etched and crystalline. 13.5 percent alcohol. We drank this wine happily with a curry of mushrooms and butternut squash. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $31.

A sample for review.

A passel of sauvignon blanc wines today, most from California, but one from New York, a pair from Chile and one from New Zealand are included. With three exceptions, these are from vintage 2016. Prices range from about $14 to $50, and a number of real bargains can be found. As is typical with the Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew most technical, historical, geological/geographical and personnel data for the sake of quick and incisive reviews, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks and designed to pique your interest and stimulate the palate. Enjoy! And always consume in moderation.

These wines were samples for review.
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Amici Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 1,700 cases. Pale straw-gold hue; grapefruit and lime peel, fennel and pea-shoot, touch of pear; highlights of grass, hay and dried thyme; balances silky talc-like texture with bright crispness and liveliness; lilac and limestone, with a slightly bracing grapefruit finish. Lovely stuff. Excellent. About $25.
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Bridge Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2016, New York State. 12.9% alc. 1,100 cases. Second label of Lieb Cellars. Fresh as a daisy and clean as a whistle; lime peel, lilac, grapefruit and flint, and a touch of melon; a delicate sauvignon blanc of wisps and hints, with bright, lively acidity. Nothing profound, tasty for beach or patio parties. Drink up. Very Good. About $16. Also available in 3-liter boxes and 20-liter kegs, so party down.
Image from pullthatcork.com.
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Concha y Toro Ribera del Rapel Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 13% alc. Light straw-gold with a faint green cast; very bright, fresh and clean, with pert notes of lime zest and gooseberry, lemongrass and fennel, spearmint and jasmine; a fairly individual sauvignon blanc, lean, lithe and chiseled, with heaps of limestone and damp flint minerality, but also generous and expansive; the finish features more spice and dried herbal elements. Excellent. About $17, marking Good Value.
Excelsior Wine Company, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Dry Creek Valley. 14.5% alc. Pale straw-gold hue; a honed and faceted sauvignon blanc that gleams like crystal; dominated by sassy gooseberry, lime peel, grapefruit and fennel qualities, opening to notes of tangerine and intriguing hints of white pepper and paper whites; zesty acidity and a well-tuned limestone element give it class and vibrancy. Excellent. About $20.
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Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2016, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 13.2% alc. Very pale straw color; lemongrass, lime peel and grapefruit, etched with some astringent mountainside blossoms and herbs; like biting into a fresh Granny Smith apple but also meadowy and heathery; crisp as new currency, lively and electric; spare, lean and lithe, with a wafting of lilac and almond blossom and a finish layered with grapefruit pith, limestone and almond skin. Very impressive. Exceptional. About $32.
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Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Yountville, Napa Valley. 13.1% alc. Pale straw-gold color; lime peel, lemongrass, gooseberry; pea-shoot, spiced pear, tarragon, grapefruit rind and pith, the latter especially from mid-palate back through a slightly bitter finish; texture poised excitingly between soft lushness and lithe crispness; bright acidity plows a furrow through burgeoning limestone minerality; entrancing body and presence; the considerable oak brought to the making of this wine is supple and subtle, a shaping but not dominating force. Consistently one of the best sauvignon blancs made in Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $25, a True Bargain.
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Illumination Sauvignon Blanc 2015, 58% Napa County, 42% Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. With 13% semillon grapes. From Huneeus Vintners. Pale gold in hue; clean, fresh, leafy and spicy, slightly honeyed, with a note of bee’s-wax; fig, roasted lemon and fennel, lemongrass, chalk and flint; quite crisp and lively, slightly raspy and bitter with grapefruit pith; very dry, scintillating acidity and limestone minerality. Excellent. About $50.
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Kunde Family Winery Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Sonoma Valley. 13.8% alc. Pale straw-gold; spiced pear, lemongrass and lime peel; slightly herbal and grassy, with a lovely greenness, like celery and fennel; honeysuckle and jasmine with a note of damp hay; very crisp and vibrant, slightly earthy, with flint-like minerality and a touch of seashell salinity on the finish. Excellent. About $17, marking Great Value.
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Martin Ray Vineyards and Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Russian River Valley. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold with faint green highlights; a green and leafy sauvignon blanc, notable for its lemon balm and fig character, its pert notes of lime peel, lemongrass and grapefruit, with a background of fennel and licorice, limestone and preserved lemon; a pleasing talc-like texture riven by bristling, lip-smacking acidity. Excellent. About $20.
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Matanzas Creek Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Sonoma County. 13.6% alc. With 4% semillon grapes. Very pale gold hue; lime and tangerine, fennel and lemon drop, with hints of lemon balm and jasmine, ginger and thyme; quite dry and tart, like a distillation of damp limestone and flint electrified by bright acidity. Very attractive. Very Good+. About $15.
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Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Alexander Valley. 13.5% alc. With 7% semillon. Medium straw-gold color; Granny Smith apples and Key limes, pink grapefruit and white pepper; broader dimension than its stablemate mentioned above but also more subdued and elegant; soft and more supple but still quite crisp and taut, with a dry powdery texture; heaps of limestone minerality from mid-palate back. Excellent. About $20.
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Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc 2016, North Canterbury, New Zealand. 14.1% alc. Pale gold; lime zest and green bean, grapefruit and pea-shoot, gooseberry and roasted fennel, with penetrating notes of iodine and seashell; a pert, tart and sassy sauvignon blanc that tickles the palate with an herbal edge and bright acidity; a bracing, saline finish. Rich with nuance and not exaggerated. Excellent. About $16, a Great Bargain.
Imported by Mt Beautiful USA, Benecia, Calif. The label image is one vintage behind.
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Pedroncelli East Side Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Dry Creek Valley. 13.5% alc. Very pale straw-gold; lime zest, peach and grapefruit, with a tropical note of guava; a bit green and leafy; hints of jasmine and lemongrass with a limestone background; snappy acidity, real pizzazz; quite dry but juicy and engaging, heaps of limestone and flint from mid-palate back through a finish that brings in fennel and lavender. Very Good+. About $17.
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Shooting Star Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Lake County. 13.5% alc. The second label of Steele Wines. Very very pale, almost colorless; lemongrass, lime peel, grapefruit; heather, thyme and flint; quite crisp and vibrant and offering surprising density and texture for the price. Quite enjoyable. Very Good+. About $14, representing Great Value.
The bottle image is one vintage behind.
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Terrunyo Los Boldos Vineyard Block 5 Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13% alc. From Concha y Toro. Shimmering pale gold color; pure celery seed and celery leaf, pea-shoot, lime peel and grapefruit; caraway seed and fennel; crisp and lively, with a supple, lithe structure bolstered by vibrant limestone minerality. Real personality and character. Excellent. About $26.
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Robert Mondavi Winery established a reputation for the sauvignon blanc grape soon after the charismatic and innovative Robert Mondavi broke away from his family and established his own winery in 1966. Long a neglected grape in California, used for blending generic proprietary white wines or badly made on its own, sauvignon blanc became in his hands a fresh, grassy, appealing wine that bore a made-up French name on the label, “Fumé Blanc,” a nod to the Pouilly-Fumé appellation in the eastern Loire Valley, where sauvignon blanc reigns supreme. The result was a marketing triumph. In fact, some wineries in California still maintain a theoretical distinction between sauvignon blanc wines, supposedly made in the fashion of white Bordeaux, and fumé blanc wines, fashioned in the Loire Valley manner, if such distinctions can practically be made.

Today I look at three fumé blanc wines from Robert Mondavi. While I give out two Excellent ratings here and one Very Good+, my caveat is that the winery seems to make a fetish of French oak barrels and of employing every possible winemaking technique to shape a sauvignon blanc in a particular image rather than — especially in the instances of the Oakville 2014 and Reserve 2014, made from the almost hallowed To Kalon Vineyard — allowing the character of the vineyard to achieve eloquent expression. One feels, again particularly for the Reserve ’14, that the wines were poked and prodded and minutely examined rather than being allowed a natural development. Still, two Excellent ratings out of three ain’t bad. I especially liked the basic Fumé Blanc 2015, which at about $20 rates as a distinct bargain.

Director of winemaking for Robert Mondavi is Genevieve Janssens.

These wines were samples for review.
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The winery’s basic product in this iteration is the Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2015, Napa Valley, a blend of 96 percent sauvignon blanc grapes and 4 percent semillon. The grapes derived from a Wappo Hill vineyard in Stags Leap District (70 percent); from Mondavi’s famed To Kalon Vineyard (13 percent), with the balance from Napa Carneros. Eighty-five percent of the juice was barrel-fermented — the rest in stainless steel — and then aged five months in French oak barrels on the lees, hand-stirred twice a month. This is a smoky sauvignon blanc, truly fume, that offers a very pale straw-gold color and entrancing aromas of roasted lemons and lemon balm, lime peel, pea shoot and lilac. The texture is silky, talc-like but balanced by bright acidity and the burgeoning edge of limestone minerality, all in support of pert and tart flavors of guava, greengage, lemon and heather, the latter for a subtly grassy touch; spicy oak stays at the filigreed periphery. 14.5 percent alcohol. One of my favorite sauvignon blanc wines of the year. Drink now through 2019 or 2020. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.
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The Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2014, Oakville District, contains 21 percent semillon grapes, a factor that lends the wine notes of honeydew melon and fig and a particular sunny-leafy aspect that I associate with the variety. Ninety-one percent of the wine fermented in French oak and then aged on the lees for eight months, undergoing regular bâtonnage (hand-stirring); only eight percent of the oak was new barrels. Grapes for this wine derived from the renowned To Kalon Vineyard that surrounds the winery in Oakville. The color is pale gold; besides the features I already mentioned, the wine teems with hints of lime peel and lemongrass, crushed gravel, verbena and fennel, hay and heather. Vivid acidity and scintillating limestone minerality provide the balance between fruit and oak, which indeed as the moments pass becomes a dominating aspect of the wine: dry, spicy and burnished, a bit more powerful than I would like. Still, this sense of tension and resolution in texture and structure gives the wine its exciting quality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.
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Strangely, or sadly, my least favorite of this trio of sauvignon blancs is the Robert Mondavi To Kalon Reserve Fumé Blanc 2014, Napa Valley. The amount of new oak increased to 42 percent, the aging to nine months, from the previous example; a small difference one might think, but enough to make this wine feel burdened by its wood regimen rather than enhanced, at least from mid-palate back through the finish. There’s a bare two percent semillon. The grapes came from the To Kalon Vineyard, half from Robert’s Block, first planted in 1960. A small portion of the fruit was fermented in cement egg-shaped containers and was added to the final blend. Of course the wine was barrel-fermented and hand-stirred in barrel. The color is very pale straw-gold; aromas of lime peel and celery leaf, lemongrass and preserved lemon are woven with notes of spiced pear, tangerine and just a hint of fig, all abetted by a snap of gunflint and graphite. The wine offers a texture almost dense in its fluid materiality, though it’s lightened and heightened by vibrant acidity and a sense of lithe energy. That oak, though, develops from a subtle haze to a formidably drying factor in the mouth, powering over all other aspects to become the wine’s raison d’etre. Through all the technique exercised in the winery, does the character of the vineyard shine through? It just feels all too handled. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $52.
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What more is there to say after “delightful and charming”? These are wines designed to provide your weekend — or the whole week, for that matter — with pleasure, deliciousness and elegance. We range widely in this post: Greece, Germany, Oregon, California, Long Island, Mendoza and Chablis. All single-variety wines, their grapes include assyrtiko, indigenous to the island of Santinori; pinot gris, not that common in the Rhineland; riesling and sauvignon blanc; gruner veltliner and pinot blanc; semillon and chardonnay. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I largely eschew technical, historical and geographical data for the sake of quick, incisive reviews meant to pique your interest and whet your palate. With one exception, the wines were samples for review. Enjoy! (In moderation, of course.)
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argyros
Estate Argyros Assyrtiko 2015, Santinori, Greece. 14% alc. This one will make you wish you were sitting in a little cafe looking out at the wine-dark Aegean Sea. It sees 20 percent French oak and was made from 150-year-old ungrafted vines. Very pale straw hue; dusty, dry marsh and seashore grasses and herbs; roasted lemon and faint spiced peach; quite ethereal and summery but displaying bracing acidity, notes of limestone-seashell minerality and an aura of yellow meadow flowers. Very Good+. About $25.
Athenee Importers and Distributors, Hempstead, N.Y.
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binz
Weingut Binz Nackenheimer Pinot Gris Kabinett 2015, Rheinhessen, Germany. 12% alc. Bright straw-gold color; jasmine and camellia, preserved lemon and lemon balm, lime peel and pear skin; a hint of mango-like tropical character; crisp and tart, taut with vibrant acidity, very dry yet ripe and juicy on the palate; long, lean, lithe finish. Truly delightful and lots of personality. Excellent. About $14, marking Great Value.
Winesellers Ltd, Niles, Illinois.
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brooks riesling
Brooks Riesling 2015, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 12.5% alc. Pale straw-gold; a direct hit of petrol and rubber eraser, followed by notes of heather and meadow, peach and lychee, with burgeoning hints of jasmine and quince and, after a few moments, ginger beer; limestone minerality offers a tremendous presence for a sense of dimension, without diminishing such fine details as bay leaf and nuances of mango and guava; the whole enterprise feels etched with bright, dry acidity. Just great. Excellent. About $20, representing Wonderful Value.
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2016SauvBlanc
Freemark Abbey Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Napa Valley. 13.4% alc. Very pale straw-gold color; notes of lime peel, grapefruit, lemongrass and spiced pear, highlighted by hints of pea-shoots, hay and heather and undertones of sunny, leafy figs; really lively, vibrant, super drinkable, yet spare, dry, lithe, nothing flamboyant or over-done; a finish chiseled from limestone and flint but wreathed in lilac. Excellent. About $24.
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Illahe Estate Gruner Veltliner 2016, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.5% alc. 650 cases. Very pale straw-gold; classic ILLAHEHEADER_famowned notes of hay, lilac and pine, with roasted lemons and yellow plums, a hint of lime peel and peach; very crisp, lively and engaging, with clean acidity and crystalline minerality cutting through a juicy, talc-like texture; terrific personality and appeal. Excellent. About $17.
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2013ReservePinotBlanc300x300 (1)
Lieb Cellars Reserve Pinot Blanc 2015, North Fork of Long Island. 11.9% alc. And this one will make you wish you were sitting on a terrace in the Hamptons, gazing out at the cerulean Atlantic. Very very pale, almost invisible in the glass; notably clean, fresh and spare, quite crisp and vibrant, with delicate strains of peach and spiced pear, rose petals and candied lime peel and a tremendous volume of limestone minerality; slightly herbal and resinous finish. Lovely character. Excellent. About $22.
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Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2016, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.5% alc. Medium green-gold hue; sunny, leafy figs Santos_SM_NV_labeland guava, apple skin and lightly baked pear; a haze of smoke and jasmine; quite clean, spare and elegant, with a beguiling texture that balances moderate lushness of fruit with zinging acidity and flint-graphite minerality, though that aspect emerges on the finish. Wholly delightful and pleasingly complex for the price. Excellent. About $16, marking Good Value.
Global Vineyards, Berkeley, Calif.
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chablis
Christian Simon Petit Chablis 2014, Chablis, France. 12% alc. Drinking beautifully at about two and a half years old. Pale straw-gold; shimmers with steel and limestone and a snap of gunflint, lustrous with lightly spiced lemon and apple; a texture both dense and powdery, lithe and supple; warms to subtle floral notes; lovely shape and resonance. Excellent. About $22, a local purchase.
Matinicus Wines, Beverley Hills, Fla.
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You won’t find a sauvignon blanc much fresher than the just-released Stewart Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Napa Valley. The small winery, Stewart_Logofounded in 2000, is a close-knit family-run company whose winemaker is son-in-law Blair Guthrie, working with ubiquitous consultant Paul Hobbs. For its first foray into the variety, the winery whole-cluster pressed the grapes and fermented half in barrel and half in stainless steel. The color is palest straw-gold; arresting aromas of lime peel and guava, heather and hay are pert and lively and infused with notes of greengage and fig, fennel and lilac. On the palate, this wine runs fleetly and lightly, with a texture that’s partly lush and talc-like and partly lean and lithe, buoyed by bright acidity for pinpoint balance. The effect is quite dry and sprightly but juicy with citrus and stone-fruit delicately spiced with cloves and lent complexity by a burgeoning grassy-lemongrass element. 13.5 percent alcohol, and a delicious reflection of thoughtful winemaking. Production was 771 cases. Now through the end of 2018. Excellent. About $25.

A sample for review.

Celia Welch may be the most important winemaker that you’ve never heard of in Napa Valley, though devotees of high-quality boutique yount sb labelwineries know her work well. Welch is a consulting winemaker for Barbour Vineyards, Hollywood & Vine Cellars, J. Davies Winery, Keever Vineyards and Winery and Scarecrow Wines. She is the winemaker for Lindstrom Wines and owner and winemaker of Corra Wines. Despite her busy involvement in these producers, Welch has a new project called Yount Ridge, one of whose wines is our Wine of the Day No. 240. This is a limited edition bottling that My Readers will have to use their wiles to search out, but I know you’re up to the challenge. Grapes for the Yount Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley, derived from an organically-farmed vineyard in the Oakville District AVA; the wine matured a brief four months in a combination of 70 percent stainless steel tanks and 30 percent new French oak, a judicious employment of wood, if you ask me. The color is pale straw-gold; a glorious, green, leafy bouquet encompasses notes of caraway and toasted hazelnuts, lemongrass and figs, smoked pears, thyme and tarragon. The wine is lively and spicy on the palate, animated by bright acidity coursing through a lovely talc-like texture bolstered by an edge of limestone minerality; a few moments in the glass bring in hints of white pepper and chives, lime peel and tangerine. The grapefruit-tinged finish is spare and elegant, chiseled from chalk, sea salt and flint. 14.2 percent alcohol. A beautifully-wrought sauvignon blanc for drinking through 2018 to 2020. Production was 160 cases. Exceptional. About $35.

A sample for review.

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