Sun 15 Nov 2015
Anyone could spend 10 minutes in a wine store and realize that 20 sauvignon blanc wines amount to about a quarter of a drop in a whole large bucket of sauvignon blancs produced in California every year. And why not? It’s a terrific grape with tremendous potential for making wines that range from simple, direct, snappy little numbers for quaffing out on the back porch to profound examples possessing great depth and character capable of aging for 25 or 30 years. Of course, it can also make wines that are bland, insipid and watery or screaming with acidity, but that’s hardly the grape’s fault. The Ur-territory for sauvignon blanc is the eastern end of the Loire Valley, in Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and several related areas, and Bordeaux’s Left Bank, where the grape is generally blended with semillon (and sometimes muscadelle) to produce grand expressions of the grape and some favored terroir. Even in Bordeaux, however, sauvignon blanc can be a work-horse grape, as in Entre-Deux-Mers, and fashioned into simple, tasty wines of no great importance. Sauvignon blanc wines are produced almost anywhere in the world that grapes can grow, from South Africa and New Zealand to northeastern Italy and (in our own country) the state of Virginia and just about everywhere in California. The wines described in this post occupy the complete geographical range, from Santa Barbara County in the south to Knights Valley in the north, and a full complement of styles. As they say on the carnival midway, “You pays yer money and you takes yer choice.” With a couple of exceptions duly noted, these wines were samples for review. A subsequent post will deal with sauvignon blanc wines from other regions and countries.
The Bernardus Grivia Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Carmel Valley, was fermented in stainless steel and aged “several months” in 24-year-old French oak tanks. The wine contains a dollop of semillon grapes. The color is pale straw-gold; it’s a fresh, clean and sprightly sauvignon blanc, with subtle herbal and grassy elements and notes of pea-shoot, roasted lemon, tarragon, lime peel and grapefruit. The wine is sleek and supple on the palate, energized by bright acidity and a slightly chiseled limestone quality, while delivering a boatload of juicy citrus and stone fruit flavors; there’s a bracing hint of leafy fig and grapefruit bitterness on the finish. 13.2 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Dean DeKorth. Very Good+. About $22.
The Cliff Lede Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley, has a complicated genesis. The primary vineyard source, located in eastern Rutherford, has old vines planted to a heritage musqué clone and semillon. Another component of the sauvignon blanc came from a vineyard in the southeastern hills of Napa Valley standing on ancient, weathered, alluvial fans of silty impoverished soils. Other grapes derive from a cooler climate vineyard on the east side of Napa, while a vineyard in Chiles Valley, a small pocket in eastern Napa County, contributes sauvignon vert planted in 1947. The final blend was 85 percent sauvignon blanc, 12 percent semillon and 3 percent sauvignon vert. The grapes fermented and the wine aged 44 percent in stainless steel tanks, 49 percent in mostly neutral French oak barrels and 7 percent in concrete eggs. What was the result of all this activity and contrivance? A frankly beautiful sauvignon blanc with seductive and almost unlimited appeal. The Cliff Lede Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2014 displays a very pale straw hue and riveting aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, roasted lemon, lemongrass and a hint of mango, with herbal and grassy elements poised in the background; a few minutes in the glass bring up notes of fennel and grapefruit. The wine is very dry, crisp with fleet acidity and almost tannic in structure, while a soft, talc-like texture offers a haze of smoke and light oak accents; the finish offers hints of limestone, grapefruit and spiced peach. 14.7 percent alcohol. This wine should drink beautifully through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $25.
The Dry Creek Vineyard Fume Blanc 2014, Sonoma County, is composed of grapes half from Russian River Valley and half from Dry Creek
Valley. It sees no oak, only stainless steel. The color is very pale straw with a faint green tinge; the leafy, grassy bouquet is characterized by notes of celery seed and caraway, grapefruit, lime peel and lemongrass, with hints of jasmine and lavender in the background. Crisp and pert, the wine exhibits lovely purity and intensity in its lithe texture and lightly spiced citrus flavors, finishing with touches of lime peel, grapefruit and limestone. Very refreshing and engaging. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016. Winemaker was Tim bell. Very Good+. About $14, a Terrific Bargain.
The Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Dry Creek Valley, is a bit milder and more subtle than its Fume Blanc stablemate. It
incorporates 14 percent of the sauvignon musque clone and 4 percent sauvignon gris. It, too, was made completely in stainless steel.The musque contributes honeysuckle and spiced pear to a melange of orange zest, honeydew melon, roasted lemon and lime peel and notes of grapefruit and tarragon. The wine is quite dry and crisp, supple and lively on the palate and bright with citrus flavors leaning gently toward stone-fruit and a tropical tinge; damp flint minerality infusing the clean finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016 into 2017. Excellent. About $18, marking Great Value.
A wine of shimmering purity and intensity, the Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014, St. Helena, made from certified organic grapes, sees only stainless steel and neutral oak in its making. The color is very pale, an ethereal almost-not-there straw-gold; delicate notes of lime peel, grapefruit, lemon balm and lilac wreathe themselves with hints of thyme and tarragon and a faint grassy tinge; matters are a bit bolder in the mouth, where chiming acidity contributes riveting crispness and a scintillating limestone and chalk element lends poignant vibrancy, all cutting through a slightly creamy texture. 13.2 percent alcohol. A masterpiece for drinking through 2017 or ’18. Winemaker was Kevin Morrisey. Excellent. About $28.
The Flora Springs Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley, is beautifully modulated in every aspect — fruit, acidity, body, minerality. The grapes, from the winery’s estate vineyard in Oakville, fermented in concrete and stainless steel tanks and aged nine months in large French oak casks and stainless steel drums. A very pale hue is almost colorless; subtle layers of lightly spiced stonefruit and citrus, herbs, fresh-mown grass and meadow flowers are delicate strung. The wine is quite tart and crisp, displaying lovely and elegant weight and heft, purity and intensity; it finishes with an infusion of limestone and grapefruit. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018. Winemaker was Paul Steinhauer. Excellent. About $25.
Made from certified organic grapes, all in stainless steel, the Frog’s Leap Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Rutherford, Napa Valley, is about as limpid, lithe and crystalline as the grape gets. Notes of pea-shoot, gooseberry, lychee, fig and lime peel open to hints of grapefruit, orange blossom, licorice and lilac in a welter of sensation that amounts to awesome purity and intensity. Wonderfully poised among bright, accented citrus flavors, brilliant acidity and shattering limestone-chalk minerality, the wine is crisp and zesty yet not overly tart and quite dry without being austere. 12.1 percent alcohol. Drink through 2017 or ’18. Winemakers were John Williams and Paula Moschetti. Excellent. About $22, a local purchased. (I paid more.)
Winemaker Ondine Chattan reaches out to Sonoma, Lake, Mendocino and Solano counties, and east to Clarksburg in the Sacramento Delta for the grapes that go into the Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc 2014, which carries a California designation. For the price, this is a surprisingly subtle and nuanced sauvignon blanc. The color is pale gold; we get the expected notes of grapefruit, lime and orange zest, along with hints of leafy and herbal elements and touches of bell pepper and fennel, with a whiff of earthy white pepper. There’s plenty of pep here, without feral exuberance, in a wine happy to be crisp and vibrant and appealing. 13 percent alcohol. Drink up. Very Good+. About $14, meaning A Real Bargain.
The difference in the Geyser Peak River Ranches Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Russian River Valley, and its cadet stablemate mentioned just above is not merely the much narrower geographical focus — a single vineyard within an AVA inside Sonoma County — but in degrees of intensity and concentration. Again, the color is pale gold; the emphasis here is on gooseberry and dill seed, lime peel and spiced pear, with a marked enveloping of jasmine and verbena. The wine is quite dry and crisp, with bright acidity animating a pleasing softness in texture and tasty, slightly leafy citrus and stone fruit flavors, all wrapped in a scintillating limestone element and green notes of grass and thyme. NA% alcohol. Drink through 2017. Excellent. About $22.
They don’t all come as pert, tart and sassy as The Hess Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley, though the wine is not as flamboyantly crisp as some examples can be. Still, this pale straw-gold quaffer is energized by gripping acidity that carries a lithesome freight of tangerine, lime peel, green apple and spiced pear through to a limestone-laced finish. In the bouquet: almond blossom, jasmine and apple skin, grapefruit, peach and tarragon. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016. Dave Guffy is director of winemaking. Very Good+. About $22.
The current release of this wine is 2014, but I was sent the 2013 several months ago, and it’s still drinking very nicely. The very pale Illuminate Sauvignon Blanc 2013, North Coast, made all in stainless steel, offers notes of lime peel and melon, celery seed and caraway; it’s very clean and fresh, energized by riveting acidity and limestone minerality; the finish admits hints of peach and apple skin. 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink up. Very Good+. About $14.
Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara was designated an American Viticultural Area in 2009; it occupies the far eastern and warmer end of Santa Ynez Valley. The Margerum Wine Company Sybarite Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, was made 91 percent in stainless steel and 9 percent in a combination of neutral and new French oak barrels, aging for 10 months. The result is a clean, spare and elegant sauvignon blanc that dips deeply into a dusty foundation of limestone and gun-flint, licorice and lilac. Notes of lime peel, thyme, heather and talc make for a beguiling entry into a wine that’s vibrant without being snappy and dry without being austere, though the finish comes on with prominent limestone and chalk minerality. 13.06 percent alcohol. Drink through 2017. Doug Margerum is director of winemaking; winemaker is Michael Miroballi. Excellent. About $21, a local purchase. (I paid more.)
The Bennett Valley AVA, granted official status in 2003, exists primarily because of the petition of Matanzas Creek Winery, a part of Jackson Family Wines. Bennett Valley lies almost totally within the Sonoma Valley AVA, with some overlap into Sonoma Coast and Sonoma Mountain. The Matanzas Creek Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Bennett Valley, was made in stainless steel and used French oak foudres and barrels. The color is pale straw-gold; it’s a jaunty, zippy sauvignon blanc, sporting grapefruit and tropical notes infused with lime peel, fennel and thyme. Though quite dry and even a bit austere on the finish, it’s a pleasingly balanced and integrated wine that offers a sunny, leafy aspect with hints of fig and yellow plum; bright acidity keeps its aim straight through a limestone and flint-packed finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016 or ’17. Winemaker was Marcia Monahan-Torres. Excellent. About $32.
Knights Valley is warmer than the fog-influenced Bennett Valley, a condition perhaps accounting for the slightly more ripe and spicy nature of the Matanzas Creek Helena Bench Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Knights Valley, a pale gold-colored wine made two-thirds in stainless steel, one-third in neutral French oak barrels. There’s more fennel and roasted lemon in this wine, with hints of yellow plums, quince and ginger and a distinct herbal quality; a touch of oak lends suppleness and spice initially but grows to more than a hint from mid-palate back, dominating the finish and muting the character of the grape. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $40.
Careful winemaking by Patrick Muran produced a beautiful Niner Wine Estates Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Paso Robles. The wine aged five months in 90 percent stainless steel tanks, 5 percent new French oak barrels and 5 percent neutral French oak, but that new oak was used only for the 10 percent semillon grapes that go into the blend; the rest is 62 percent sauvignon blanc and 28 percent musque clone. Yeah, that’s a lot of “percents” to read about, but I like for My Readers to understand what kind of thought goes into making a wine of authority and concentration. The color is pale straw-gold; penetrating scents of grapefruit and lime peel, peaches, quince and cloves are melded to layers of limestone and flint, while above all waft scents of jasmine and honeysuckle. This is a very dry sauvignon blanc, with about it something saline and savory, bracing and slightly astringent; it’s a bit smoky and earthy, a touch roasted in its citrus flavors that flow to a long, vibrant, steely finish. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink through 2017. Excellent. About $20.
A perennial favorite, the pale gold-colored Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Northern Sonoma, was fermented 90 percent in stainless steel and 10 percent in French oak barrels. This is one of the most elegant and delicate of the sauvignon blanc wines enumerated in this post. Aromas of pear and roasted lemons offer notes of peach, hay and new-mown grass, with subtle hints of quince and greengage plum; the wine is dry, buoyed by brisk acidity and a smoky-stony-steely quality that lifts the mildly spicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016. Winemaker was Greg Morthole. Very Good+. About $17.
A subtle haze of oak envelops the S.R. Tonella Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Rutherford, but it’s an element that adds depth and resonance to a beautifully detailed wine. The color is pale but rich gold; the bouquet is characterized by pear and roasted lemon, hints of figs, banana and mango and spare notes of cloves, quince and ginger; any nuances of grass and herbs are kept to a minimum. The wine is quite dry but juicy with the softness of ripe peach and lemon flavors; brisk acidity enlivens a slightly powdery texture, leading to a finish packed with limestone and chalk minerality. 14.4 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 or ’19. Production was “under 500 cases.” Winemaker was Fred Delibert. Excellent. About $29.
Beautifully balanced and integrated but displaying tremendous energy and vigor, the Stonestreet Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Alexander Valley, derives from vineyards 900 feet up the western slopes of the Mayacamas range. The grapes fermented 70 percent in stainless steel tanks, 30 percent in neutral French oak foudres, that is, large barrels; the wine did not undergo barrel aging. The color is pale gold; beguiling aromas of lemon balm, verbena, lime peel and grapefruit open to notes of fennel and celery seed, lemongrass and lilac, quince and ginger. On the palate, the wine is seductively poised between crisp vibrancy and a moderately lush, talc-like texture riven by brisk acidity and a crystalline limestone element; roasted lemon and slightly caramelized grapefruit flavors are mellowed by a touch of spiced pear on a finish that segues through deep resonant mineral qualities. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 to 2020. A real dreamboat of a sauvignon blanc. Winemaker was Lisa Valtenbergs. Exceptional. About $35.
Four months in neutral French oak barrels lend the Trione Vineyards River Road Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Russian River Valley, suppleness and suavity. The very pale straw-gold hue is as attractive as the aromas of pea shoot, grapefruit and lime peel that open to notes of spiced pear and roasted lemon, celery seed and fennel, all encompassed in a leafy, grassy character. The wine is exuberant without being flamboyant, a quality that extends across the palate in a line of bright acidity and freshness that culminates in a finish chiseled from damp limestone and flint. 13.9 percent alcohol. Lots of personality. Drink through 2017 or ’18. Winemaker was Scot Covington. Excellent. About $23.
Made all in stainless steel, the Vina Robles Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Paso Robles, offers a very pale straw-gold hue and bright aromas of lime peel, tarragon and celery seed, fennel, grapefruit and thyme; pretty darned crisp, tart and zingy, the wine sings through the mouth on a stream of citrus and stone-fruit flavors touched with leafy fig and infused with flint and limestone. 14.6 percent alcohol. Drink up. Winemaker was Kevin Willenborg. Very Good+. About $16, representing Fine Value.