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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Sipping Summer: Sauvignon Blancs to Beat Back the Heat

With the temps heating up we all need to chill, and the ubiquitous and stylistically diverse Sauvignon Blanc can meet a variety of taste profiles and price points. Sauvignon Blanc traces its origins, so far as we know, to France specifically the Loire Valley and Bordeaux. At some point in the 18th century, Sauvignon Blanc paired with Cabernet Franc to become the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon. So if Cab is your go-to red then Sauvignon Blanc might be your go-to white. I’ve assembled 15 Sauvignon Blancs, from New Zealand to Napa, Santa Barbara to Sancerre that are as bright, happy and refreshing as summer in a glass. (NOTE: The original version of this article first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter)

Amici Cellars 2013 Spring Mountain Sauvignon Blanc
Napa is no stranger to great wines and this 100% barrel fermented (20% new French Oak) Sauvignon Blanc beaks the traditional mold by judiciously using oak barrels. The result is a wine with typical lemon-lime, honeyed orange blossom aromas but is reinforced with notes of passion fruit, pineapple, minerality, sweet resin and a wisp of vanilla. Rich and expressive, this unique Sauvignon Blanc is impressive now but will continue to age as there is a weightiness and maturity to this wine. The vineyard source from the Spring Mountain appellation sits far above the valley floor at an elevation of 1,200 feet. ($40,

Brander 2014 Mesa Verde Sauvignon Blanc
Fred Brander is the undisputed king of Santa Barbara Sauvignon Blanc having first made the wine 40 years ago. All his grapes are estate grown and he produces half a dozen iterations. This version is nearly flawless; a beautiful cornucopia of white peach, honeysuckle, nectarine, passion fruit, sweet grass and honey. The acidity is ideally suited and the fruit and mouth feel bounce around the tongue like a kid on a trampoline on a summer day. Made in stainless steel but with more maceration time - the contact between the juice and the crushed skins - it offers a noticeable palette weight and you understand how good Santa Barbara Sauvignon Blanc can be. ($22,

Chateau Montelena 2014 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
Known for Chardonnay (the film Bottle Shock chronicled Montelena’s rise to power), they have a small parcel of Sauvignon Blanc that doesn’t get much attention since it’s second fiddle here. Yet this is a delightful wine playing both sides of the fence; the bright acidity and tropical notes of pineapple, lemon custard since the majority of the wine was done in stainless steel, and the more mature aspect - a small portion fermented in barrel which adds a touch of the vanilla, cedar and orange. There’s an ever so slight banana note in the back and it shows the power of a major winery with it’s under the radar offerings. ($35,

Domaine de la Perrière Sancerre 2014
Any winery that has been in business since 1790 is doing something correct and the Sancerre region of France’s Loire Valley has been growing Sauvignon Blanc since the U.S. was fresh off the Civil War. Domaine de la Perrière is a 9th generation family owned and managed winery. Typical of Sancerre, the birthplace of Sauvignon Blanc, this is a more mineral driven wine with white peach, nectarine, almond, passion fruit and a balanced acidity making this an ideal white wine with food. It is soft, rich and clean without anything overt and shows exactly why Sancerre excels at this grape. ($26,

Duckhorn Vineyards 2012 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc
Just when you thought Sauvignon Blanc couldn’t get any more different here comes a late harvest iteration, meaning the grapes were left long on the vine and allowed to desiccate, thereby consolidating their sugars. Made from grapes in Sonoma, this dessert wine is not made in successive vintages but only when the timing is right. The result is a luscious viscous wine with notes of honey, candied apricot, mango, toasted sugared almonds, and caramelized nectarine. It has weight and depth typical of dessert wines but the sugar is not overpowering and simplistic. It is a sensuous reminder that Sauvignon Blanc can be this good. ($45,

Ehlers Estate 2014 Sauvignon Blanc
This Napa Valley winery located just north of St. Helena was founded in 1886, but Sauvignon Blanc only appeared on the property in the mid 1990s. All their fruit is made from certified organic grapes - they received their organic certification in 2008 - and this Sauvignon Blanc is all lemon, peach, pear, nectarine, grapefruit, floral notes and a bright acidity from an ideal growing season. More restrained and less herbal and grassy than other Sauvignon Blancs, this is a low-key intro to the grape. ($28,

Giesen 2014 Sauvignon Blanc
New Zealand is not just the Lord of the Rings territory, it’s Sauvignon Blanc land, but surprisingly it was only planted there in 1973 and it’s rise to international prestige shows how suited this grape is to this island. Giesen crafts a blend using 60 vineyards spread across the length and breadth of Marlborough’s famed Wairau Valley. The 2014 vintage also has a small selection of fruit from the more southern Awatere Valley. On the nose there is immediate lemon verbena and sweet grass and typical of the New Zealand style these is herbaceous, grassy with tart mango and lemon meringue and an acidity that calls out for food. It’s almost hard to believe you can find a wine of this caliber at this price. ($14,

Jackson Estate 2013 Stitch Sauvignon Blanc 
Not to be out done by their brethren Jackson Estate, also from the Wairau Valley in New Zealand, traces their English heritage back to the 1840s when they first came to New Zealand. Located about a four-hour drive apart from Giesen this Southern Hemisphere wine expresses plum, lychee, mango, lemon-lime and pineapple, which dominate this clean pure expression of Sauvignon Blanc. There are back notes minerality and acidity rounding out the whole. Aged minimally on the lees - expired yeast cells - gives this a wine a slight viscosity. ($21,

J. Christopher 2014 Sauvignon Blanc
From Oregon’s northern Willamette Valley, better known for Pinot Noir, comes this softer version of Sauvignon Blanc patterned after France’s Loire Valley. There’s lime, lemon, grapefruit and a resin like maturity with more of a mineral note and almond but less overt fruit. This ends up tasting less sweet than other versions you might encounter, yet still feels slightly richer with a noticeable acidity and rounder weight in the mouth. ($20,

Justin 2014 Sauvignon Blanc
It’s no secret that Justin Winery in Paso Robles has long been one of the leaders of this still up-and-coming wine region in spite of their original plantings being in 1981. But original owner Justin Baldwin knew this region would be best for the traditional Bordeaux varieties including Sauvignon Blanc. Their 2014 Sauvignon Blanc is crisp with tropical notes of lemon-lime, grapefruit, green apple, guava and white peach. Since there was no malo-lactic fermentation this is a light, bright, clean iteration of Sauvignon Blanc, which feels like a perfect summer day in your glass. ($14,

Kriselle Cellars 2014 Sauvignon Banc
Oregon is best known for the Willamette Valley where Pinot Noir reigns, but the southwestern portion of the state is home to a number of diverse wineries like the Rogue Valley where Kriselle Cellars turns out this terrific little number. It’s different that California in that there is more caramelized pineapple and passion fruit and an upfront limoncello vibe, with a wonderfully long finish. The acidity is full but not piercing, the wine is smooth but still vibrant. Being so close to the Rogue River the noticeable minerality speaks volumes and rounds out the wine making this unique, and a fantastic value for a wine so complex. ($21,

Lula Cellars 2014 Sauvignon Blanc
Located in the teeny tiny town of Philo in the Anderson Valley in Mendocino, the 2014 vintage marks the first Sauvignon Blanc ever released by Lula Cellars. This outstanding wine comes from grapes grown at nearly 2,500-feet elevation ridge top and close proximity to the Pacific coast lending to warm days and cool nights – ideal climate conditions for grape growing. This version offers grapefruit, fig, honeydew, resin, quince and a thread of minerality with a long finish and cleansing acidity. ($22,

Ram’s Gate 2014 Carneros Sauvignon Blanc
The Sauvignon Blancs from Rams Gate in Carneros almost defy description. They are herbaceous with lemon-lime, grapefruit, meringue but also vanilla, sweet grass, mango, peach and pear and a moderate mouth feel and buoyant acidity. They are the perfect balance, striking a middle ground that can placate anyone. In part this is because they are stainless steel fermented but then aged on the lees for nine months so there is a minimal sense of body weight and oak treatment without loosing Sauvignon Blancs inherent quality. ($28,

Sonoma Loeb 2013 Sonoma County
This winery is known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and in fact 2013 was their first ever Sauvignon Blanc but out of the gate they’re knocking it out of the park. Lively and crisp with a mild but noticeable acidity, this offers honeysuckle, lemon-lime, pear and fig, green apple and candied melon. The fruit comes from two distinct Sonoma regions, the Russian River Valley and the Alexander Valley. A partial fermentation in French oak and stainless steel tanks means that you get almond and cedar notes but you don’t lose the tropical flavors like lemon zest, peach and apple typically associated with Sauvignon Blanc. ($18,

Vogelzang Reserve 2012
Though most Sauvignon Blancs are not oaked, some are and to find a superior version of that is tough as usually the oak obliterates the classic fruit. From Santa Barbara’s warmest growing region called Happy Canyon, this Sauvignon Blanc from grape growers turned winery, is a decadent feel of clover honey, tangerine, nectarine, green tea, sweet resin, orange blossom and caramel. The acidity is more muted and it was fermented in neutral French Oak and aged for eight months, using natural yeasts therefore you get a viscosity most wines wish they had. ($32,


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