There are two wines that automatically qualify as “official wines of summer”: crisp dry rosés and frisky sauvignon blancs. This month we will study the latter, saving the former for another article. There are of course several other European whites that will fill this bill very nicely as well, we have noted these alternate whites in other articles and continue to sing their praises.
Sauvignon blanc probably originated in southwest France and is credited with being, along with cabernet franc, one of the parents of cabernet sauvignon — a remarkable pedigree in wine lineage, and one that helps explain the importance of this grape and its place in the wine hierarchy.
“Crisp” is a typical descriptor for sauvignon blanc, with Old World sauvignon showing minerality with more grassy and herbal components while New World sauvignon will exhibit more stone fruit and kiwi notes, making it a perfect aperitif wine. Sauvignon blanc works well with light fish dishes, shellfish, hummus and olives, and is one of the few wines that pairs well with asparagus. When you look for a nice summer sipper, you tend to look for crisp acidity, appealing aromas and a reasonable price, and these light- to-medium bodied wines are one of our favorite summer quaffing wines.
We joined one of my daughters for Mother’s Day to taste these wines before a special dinner, along with a nice selection of appropriate appetizers, bagged up the wines and went to work sorting out our favorites. The tasting table consisted of homemade guacamole, steamed artichokes, hummus with crackers, an assortment of mostly goat cheeses and a brie, thinly sliced salami, green olives, cornichons, smoked almonds and sliced bread.
After the formal scoring, we were presented with a baked halibut on polenta with a wine-butter reduction with crispy prosciutto and fried kale, followed by a key lime pie. All were good matches for the wines.
With lazy afternoons right around the corner, you will enjoy these wines as an end-of-the-day salute with an assortment of healthy snacks (celery, carrots, cauliflower and asparagus), while a good chèvre (goat cheese) is a classic match here.
One of the hurdles that lesser grapes deal with is the “glass ceiling” imposed by the market place. Most West Coast producers buy their grapes from independent producers, and in Napa, sauvignon blanc grapes sell for 20 percent less than chardonnay. It’s the same problem that pinot gris faces in Oregon, and something that makes it hard for a variety to rise to its maximum potential. This is not the case in Bordeaux or the Loire, where sauvignon is prized as a white grape and doesn’t have to compete with the popular chardonnay. In Bordeaux you will usually see it combined with semillon to produce a softer style that is quite good. Sauvignon is the star in and around the Loire Valley villages of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé, where it has achieved world-class prominence as a varietal wine, and New Zealand has staked its reputation on this grape with a bold grassy style. There they use virtually 100 percent screw caps, which is one of the best improvements in bottling technology for most wines.
This tasting was a true mix from all over, and each area seemed to produce a top wine. Whitehaven from New Zealand was again our top wine, as it was several years ago, while Napa (Ferrari-Carono), Chile (Concha Y Toro) and several French wines showed just how universal this grape has become — unlike a few years ago, when California was the big winner.
Sauvignon Blanc Review wine — score — comments — country — price
Whitehaven ’13 SB, Marlborough ★★★★ Best of Tasting — New Zealand — 15.99
Ferrari-Carano ’13, Sonoma ★★★★ A Close Second California — 13.99
Concha Y Toro ’12 Grand Reserva SB ★★★★ Another Star — Chile — 15.99
Ladoucette ’10 Les Deux Tours ★★★★ A Top Scorer France — 13.99
Cht. Lamothe Haux ’12 Bordeaux ★★★★ All Time Best Buy — France — 16.99
Cht. La Freynelle ’13 Bordeaux Blend ★★★★ A Personal Favorite — France — 12.99
Cht Bonnet ’12, Entre-Deux-Mers ★★★★ Top Notch SB — France — 12.99
Cht Palene ’13 Bordeaux ★★★★ Crisp & Nice France — 11.99
Cht Coucheroy ’11 Pessac-Leognan SB ★★★ Another Best Buy — France — 17.99
Decoy ’12 Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma ★★★ My Top Wine — California — 17.99
Bougrier, VdP Val de Loire SB ★★★ A Personal Favorite — France — 11.99
Angeline ’10 Russian River Valley SB ★★★ CA Sta — California — 12.99
Santiago Station NV, Sauvignon Blanc ★★★ A Best Buy — Chile — 5.00
Our four-star rating system and how it might compare to the Wine Spectator 100-point scale:
★ Good (80-84), ★★ Very Good (85-87), ★★★ Very Good/Excellent (88-89), ★★★★ Excellent (90+).
All ratings are only opinions of our tasters and not meant to detract from your personal favorites.
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