It may not have the cachet of chardonnay, but sauvignon blanc suits summer
It may not enjoy the popularity of chardonnay, but food-friendly sauvignon blanc suits the summer sipping scene perfectly. Dive in by sampling something from France's Loire Valley, or just about anything from Chile's Casablanca Valley, or any number of new releases from Washington state, especially Upland Estates' 2007 Sauvignon Blanc.
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Pick of the week
Kenwood 2008 White Table Wine; $8
California sauv blancs — at least the good ones — can be pricey, but in the bargain bin you may find pleasing blends such as this, a 60/40 mix of sauvignon blanc and barrel-fermented chardonnay. A hint of oak, a touch of spice, and good melony fruit flavors. (Young's Columbia distributes)
SAUVIGNON BLANC may never top the best-selling lists in wine-marketing surveys. A recent Nielsen report noted that chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and that old standby white (as in sweet) zinfandel accounted for more than half of all grocery-store sales.
Nor is sauvignon blanc gaining on the latest trendy wines, pinot noir and riesling. Sales of both are up smartly. Sauvignon blanc just plods along.
And yet, I don't think you can find a better, widely available, food-friendly white wine for summer sipping than sauv blanc. It's a grape that is successfully grown all over the world, but manages to express itself differently in each place. Depending on the location, the soil and the winemaker, it may be grassy and sharp, stony and herbal, bursting with lime and citrus, tasting of ripe peach and tropical fruits or (heaven help us!) round and oaky.
My personal-favorite sauv blancs are from Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, at the eastern edge of France's Loire Valley. Different types of mineral-laden soils impart flavors of chalk or flint, and these wines are breathtakingly dry and steely. The best bargains come from less-pedigreed regions nearby, such as Quincy, Menetou-Salon and Reuilly. Look for such widely available producers as Henri Bourgeois and Oisly & Thésée.
Somewhat similar, bone dry and crisply restrained sauvignon blancs are made throughout northeast Italy. Labeled simply sauvignon (they leave the rest blanc) these are mountain fresh, truly, with a palate-cleansing quality. Some excellent producers are Livio Felluga, Marco Felluga, Jermann, Schiopetto and Venica & Venica.
Chile's Casablanca Valley has carved out a nice reputation for its affordable, light and quaffable sauv blancs, with flavors showing more bright citrus than steely mineral. Honestly, it's hard to go wrong with any white wine from this region, no matter who produces it.
Surprisingly, New Zealand has been handed the gold medal for New World sauvignon blancs, perhaps simply because winemakers there had the inspired foresight to jump on that bandwagon ahead of anyone else. It was Cloudy Bay that put New Zealand sauv blancs on the world map, but, these days, you can drink wines almost as good for far less money, from producers such as Brancott, Stoneleigh and Kim Crawford. Brancott's Terroir Series offers stylish examples from three regions — — Rapaura, Awatere River and the Wairau Valley — and its less expensive Marlborough bottling (about $14) is a good, all-purpose blend.
Though Washington is not especially well-known for its sauvignon blancs, many vintners here are making lovely renditions (and some sauv-sémillon blends) that display the brilliant clarity and laser-sharp acidity of the grape. New releases are flooding the market this time of year; among my recent favorites are:
Arbor Crest 2007 Sauvignon Blanc ($9); Cadaretta 2008 Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon ($22); Chinook 2007 Sauvignon Blanc ($18); Efesté 2008 Feral Sauvignon Blanc ($18); Lone Canary 2007 Sauvignon Blanc ($13); Milbrandt Vineyards 2007 Traditions Sauvignon Blanc (sold in the tasting room only); Novelty Hill 2007 Stillwater Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($18); and Sineann's 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (from Oregon's Columbia Valley, $20).
A special shout-out to the very limited (74 cases only) Upland Estates 2007 Sauvignon Blanc. From a new Washington wine region, Snipes Mountain, the fruit is all estate-grown and barrel-fermented. Scents of sweet hay rise up, wrapped in flavors of lemon zest, grapefruit and candied citrus. There's a dusty note as well, and the richness keeps bringing in more nuances, of English breakfast tea, sweet stone fruits and papaya. See www.uplandwinery.com for availability.
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