Why You Need To Be Drinking California Sauvignon Blanc.
These dynamic sippers are the real wines of the summertime
Given the history of Sauvignon Blanc in the Golden State, it would have been hard to anticipate its recent rise to stardom. When Robert Mondavi introduced a barrel-fermented version in the 1960s, calling it Fumé Blanc in a nod to its smoky profile (and invoking France’s Pouilly-Fumé), others adopted the design. But lots of variations were dull compared with the very best white wines from France, and Americans developed a taste for Chardonnay as their white wine of choice. Even twenty years ago, Sauvignon Blanc vines were routinely removed and replaced with Chardonnay.
It’s tough to overemphasize how far Sauvignon Blanc has actually come. Today it’s one of the state’s most refreshing, constant and reasonably priced whites, offering an amazing range of designs, from direct, fruit-forward examples to variations with more complexity and nuance. There isn’t a signature California style, and only a handful of vintners use the “Fumé” name any longer.
” My attitude towards this varietal has changed drastically over the years,” discusses Sauvignon Blanc expert Merry Edwards. In the 1970s, she thought it was a challenge to make a version she ‘d like. “Gradually I found out how to craft Sauvignon Blanc into a wine worthwhile of its place as one of the fantastic wines of the world.”
A major turning point was available in the 1990s, when New Zealand’s distinctive fruit-forward bottlings began to arrive en masse. Winemakers took notice. With worldwide Sauvignon Blanc getting so much attention, why could not California participate? The secret was to treat the range with more regard. Vintners focused more on vineyard practices, determining sites that provided the grapes more intensity and less herbaceousness. They also started to experiment in the winery, straying away from oak.
These days, no matter what design a manufacturer arrive at, you can expect light- to medium-bodied Sauvignon Blancs from California, most of them fruit-forward in profile. There can be citrus elements, but more tangerine or Mandarin orange than lemon-lime. Expect stone fruit and melon notes, with some versions leaning toward tropical tastes such as mango or pineapple. Herbal, floral or mineral details are common, while subtle oak affects can recommend spice and tea notes.
Due to the fact that Sauvignon Blanc grows relatively easily and intensely in numerous spots around the state, the wine can be simple to make. The grapes are picked early, and can be pressed, fermented in stainless steel and bottled a few months later on as a varietally right (if unexciting) wine.
The new thinking is that Sauvignon Blanc is worthy of a more thoughtful method. Some wine makers report picking their grapes in multiple passes to get a mix of fresh green notes with more ripe tastes, blending them together. Others are utilizing custom or wild-yeast practices, together with extra lees contact. A number of producers are likewise explore a variety of fermentation vessels, from standard oak barrels to ones made from acacia, from stainless-steel tanks to concrete fermentors and even clay amphorae.
Wine Maker David Galzignato of Napa’s Provenance Vineyards recommends there’s a special pride vintners take in the style of their Sauvignon Blanc. “I don’t think Sauvignon Blanc goes through the same backward and forward as Chardonnay,” he states. “Homes stick to their version.”
Lots of house designs highlight California Sauvignon Blanc’s strong suit– how its brilliant level of acidity pairs well with lots of kinds of food. “I believe that the adaptability of Sauvignon Blanc is now well-recognized,” describes Edwards. “We are lucky adequate to produce the two varietals that have the capability to control a menu– Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. That’s one factor we make half-bottles of each wine. A little bottle of each at your table, which covers any menu choice.”
Leading California Sauvignon Blancs have fallen into this food-friendly groove.
The very best examples have a succulent or fleshy texture– like biting into completely ripe fruit– while still revealing a lot of brilliant level of acidity. “The unclean little secret is the alcohol,” Galzignato says. “You can press it and get viscosity, and with [Sauvignon Blanc’s] acidity you do not see it.” Galzignato’s technique is to divide his Sauvignon Blanc picks– some earlier with lower alcohol and others riper– and then mix them.
The typical alcohol level amongst the red wines in this report clocks in at 13.7%. But even at these numbers, there’s still lots of lip-smacking juiciness, with numerous variations that register at 13.5% and lower. Wine maker Steve Matthiasson states there is a lot of attention being paid to selecting times. “Recently I’m seeing more California Sauvignon Blanc producers collecting a bit previously to catch more acidity and freshness, while still maintaining the lush fruit and abundant palate that is a California trademark.” He adds that improved focus in the vineyard indicates that the grapes can avoid herbaceous notes and concentrate on ripe fruit tastes.
Given that my previous report on the classification (” Style and Compound,” June 15, 2018), I have actually reviewed almost 225 wines in blind tastings at our Napa office, with excellent results. The large majority scored 85 points or greater on Wine Viewer’s 100-point scale, and a third of them received exceptional ratings of 90-plus. (A complimentary alphabetical list of ratings and prices for all wines tasted is available.).
The high-scorers display the many regions in which Sauvignon Blanc grapes shine, yielding a series of expressions. Favia’s Coombsville Línea 2017 (94 points, $85) is aromatic and mouthwatering, while Dragonette’s Pleased Canyon of Santa Barbara Vogelzang Vineyard 2015 (93, $45) is rich and tropical, and Lail’s Napa Valley Plan 2017 (93, $40) has hints of honeycomb and lanolin. Other top red wines hail from Sonoma and Santa Barbara and show an even broader series of flavors.
Sauvignon Blanc also works well in blends. Matthiasson’s rejuvenating White Napa Valley 2017 (89, $40) combines Sauvignon Blanc with Ribolla Gialla, Sémillon and Tocai Friulano, with the grapes blended together after a whole-cluster press and aged on the lees before bottling. Another effective mix, Flora Springs’ flower, spicy Soliloquy Napa Valley 2017 (90, $50) is a freshened-up variation of the winery’s flagship white, mixing its exclusive Soliloquy clone of Sauvignon Blanc with Chardonnay and Malvasia, with simply a touch of oak. General manager Nat Komes admits that in the past Flora Springs attempted to turn its Sauvignon Blanc into Chardonnay in response to the heavy-handed oak trend of the 1980s. However while working to reanimate Soliloquy, the group saw a newly found freedom to envision a more modern variation of the grape.
These sort of experiments aren’t restricted to blends of Sauvignon Blanc.
Other vintners are trying to determine Sauvignon Blanc’s unique attributes and focus on those in their wines. Heading up among the most exciting programs is winemaker Vailia From of Desperada, who bottled six various Sauvignon Blancs from 2018, demonstrating different single-vineyard expressions, single-clone versions and examples made in amphorae.
The whole lineup is a stunning study of the grape at its best, with 5 of the white wines scoring between 91 and 93 points. Amongst my favorites are the velvety Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara 1 McGinley 2018 (93, $38) and the flexible Pleased Canyon of Santa Barbara Amphora McGinley Vineyard 2018 (93, $38).
It’s simple to consider Sauvignon Blanc as free from harvest drama, particularly the fear of late-season rains, considering that the grape is normally among the very first to be picked. However Sauvignon Blanc is certainly impacted by growing conditions. At Peter Michael, for example, the warm season in 2017 needed cold settling in order to keep a fragrant profile in its Sauvignon Blanc. Winemaker Nicolas Morlet calls the resulting Knights Valley L’Après-Midi 2017 (92, $64) the most exotic vintage he’s ever done. “Instead of finishing crisp, my objective is to have texture,” he says.
Other winemakers have found success with leaf-pulling to provide their Sauvignon Blanc grapes more direct exposure to the sun, but not Morlet. “It’s much easier to leave the grapes on later than it is to glue a leaf back on,” he quips. Morlet uses concrete fermentors and bâtonnage for the texture he desires. “What’s remarkable about Sauvignon Blanc is that it expresses terroir extremely well,” he adds.
All of these advances are making this a really interesting category. “Sauvignon Blanc is on fire,” reports Matthiasson. “The nurseries are sold out of vines, and there are waiting lists for vineyard fruit sales.”.
” California Sauvignon Blanc has actually been searching for an audience,” suggests Komes as he talks about the attention the wines have actually been getting. Ends up that wine makers were part of that audience.
Let’s face it, wine can be confusing. It doesn’t have to be this way. Delicious booze should be understood and appreciated by all. Patrick Cappiello, the award-winning wine director at Rebelle in New York City, completely agrees. So he is going to break down the basics of the most common wine varietals you’ll find in a store or at a restaurant.
This week, he breaks down sauvignon blanc, explaining the qualities of the grape, regions where it grows best, proper glassware, what a good one will look, smell and taste like, food pairings and other varietals to try if you find you like sauvignon blanc.
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