Category Archives: Sauvignon Blanc

The Blanc Side of Bordeaux

Hailed as one of the top wine producing regions in the world, Bordeaux typically brings to mind bold red wines worthy of the cellar.

But the white wines of Bordeaux are not to be overlooked. These bottles should have a place on your dinner table and at parties all summer long! These wines offer a diverse selection, from bright and easy-drinking to complex, layered, and age-worthy.

If you’re hesitant to try whites from this dominantly red region, you should know that until relatively recently, up to 60% of Bordeaux vineyards were planted to white grapes—reds only came to dominate plantings after a devastating frost in 1956 wiped out most of the white grapevines. While frost destruction was the catalyst for change, the move to more red grape plantings was due to a combination of factors including market demand, better soil-grape matching expertise and the desire to move away form the production of high volume base wines for the spirits industry.

The good news here is that though white wine production may be limited, the attention to detail and dedication to selecting vineyard locations with suitable soil types and mesoclimate make the wines noteworthy. Furthermore, over the past decade or so, producers have been making productive changes to combat issues of oxidation and insufficient aromatics in their white wines. One important change has been improved canopy management, meaning each vine bears the appropriate number of grapes, and these grapes get to see the right amount of sun at the right time. What does that do? It creates healthier grapes, and as well all know, healthier grapes make better wine. Once these healthier grapes enter the cellar, producers focus on keeping fermentation temperatures low, which preserves the fresh aromatics and acidity of the grapes, which is particularly important for Sauvignon Blanc. In summary, the white wines of Bordeaux are thriving due to the use of healthier grapes and better winemaking techniques.

White Bordeaux wines are comprised of three primary grapes: Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. One may occasionally see small quantities of varieties such as Sauvignon Gris among blends, but this is fairly rare. Like the red wines of Bordeaux, many of the best white wines are blends, with a focus on creating a balanced wine with character and complexity. The range of varieties available for blending allows for a diverse selection of wine styles. A few styles and regions to look for include:

Bordeaux – the largest appellation of them all! Some of the prestigious red appellations cannot be used on the labels of white wine, so you may just see “Bordeaux.” Many Bordeaux-appellated whites are simple and easy drinking, while others are more complex and noteworthy. Be sure to read the descriptions for these wines, as they could be light and fresh or more mineral-driven and intense. While both are delicious, the appellation itself is so diverse, it’s important to educate yourself before you buy.

Entre-Deux-Mers – Fresh, easy drinking, and value-oriented, white wines of Entre-Deux-Mers (which means between two seas) are the style you want to sip as an aperitif on a hot summer day or with fresh ceviche. Typically dominated by Sauvignon Blanc, these white wines are all about refreshing acidity and lively fruit flavors.

Graves – Named for the gravelly soils of the region, Graves is ideal for producing complex, often age-worthy white wines. With mineral-tinged notes paired with complex fruit and floral notes, these wines are ideal for accompanying a meal and often benefit from a few years in the bottle so the flavors can integrate.

Pessac-Leognan – The cru-level white wines live here, in a small region within Graves. This is where you see higher prices and higher quality. You may call these cerebral wines—not always easy to define in their levels of nuance, but certainly worth sipping to try to find out! These are perfect for a special meal and can easily enjoy some time in the cellar.

 

 

New Zealand: A Sauvignon Blanc for every Palate

Most wine professionals would agree that no grape variety is more easily identifiable in a blind tasting than Sauvignon Blanc. And perhaps this variety’s unique qualities are more pronounced in wines hailing from New Zealand than in those of any other provenance. As soon as the bottle has been opened and the wine is poured into a glass, an unmistakable perfume fills the surrounding air with notes of zesty citrus, tropical passion fruit, freshly cut grass, tangy gooseberry, and occasionally crisp bell pepper or piquant jalapeño. Often, vegetal aromas like asparagus or artichoke are present as well.

But although New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc typically stays true to its varietal character, don’t mistake its consistency for uniformity. Though many of these wines share common aromas, there is a wide range of techniques available to grape growers and winemakers to coax the raw materials into delightfully different final products.

The decision of when to harvest the grapes is one way in which producers can influence the style of the wine they intend to make. When Sauvignon Blanc grapes are harvested early in the season, they have high natural acidity and flavors that lean toward lime and asparagus. If weather permits and the grapes are left to ripen longer on the vine, notes of tropical fruit and even peach can develop. Producers will select the date of the harvest with this in mind. Some wineries, for example, Jules Taylor, have several vineyard properties throughout a particular region and will harvest each at a different time, so that they may be blended together for a more complex and layered wine.

There are many different clones of Sauvignon Blanc to choose from, and winemakers often select a clone or a mix of clones in order to produce a desired style of wine. Some of these highlight classic New Zealand grassy and herbaceous flavors, while others, such as the Bordeaux clones, tone down these “green” notes and focus on tropical fruit. Mt. Beautiful is an enthusiastic proponent of the latter type of clone. Later, in the winery, yeasts can be selected as well to bring out the desired level of aromatics from the wine. Wineries like Giesen, Whitehaven,  Villa Maria, and Nautilus put a high emphasis on yeast selection, while others like Pegasus Bay choose to rely on the indigenous yeast naturally present in the winery and on the grapes.

Another option in the vineyard is to encourage lower-yielding vines. Generally, as the number of grapes grown in a certain area decreases, the concentration of flavors in each grape increases. This results in a more complex and flavorful wine, and is becoming a more frequent practice in New Zealand vineyards.

Once the grapes have been harvested and transported to the winery, the winemaker has an important decision to make regarding the vessels in which the wines will be fermented and aged. Stainless steel has typically been the popular choice in New Zealand, which preserves the pure, fresh fruit aromas of the Sauvignon Blanc grape. Babich, Mud House, Stoneleigh and Astrolabe are known for making wines in this clean, crisp style. But increasingly, winemakers are turning to various types of oak barrels to produce an alternative style of wine. Unlike the production of, say, some California Chardonnay, the aim here is not to add woody flavors to the wine, but rather to round out the texture and create a richer mouthfeel. Often, as is the case with Brancott‘s higher end “B” Sauvignon Blanc, only a small percentage of the wine spends time in oak to create a subtle effect. Some of these wines, such as those from Staete Landt, have a surprising ability to age beautifully.

Another increasingly popular way to enhance the body of these wines is extended lees contact and occasionally lees stirring. This interaction with dead yeast cells adds a creamy yet elegant roundness to the wine. Clos Henri, Mt. Beautiful, Yealands, and Wither Hills all employ this practice to varying extents.

Some New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, such as Loveblock, goes through the process of malolactic fermentation, much more typically associated with Chardonnay. This helps to soften the tart, green, acidic flavors for a more approachable style that could perhaps serve as a gateway for those not used to the more pungent characteristics common to the variety.

Yet another way to diversify Sauvignon Blanc is to combine it with something other than Sauvignon Blanc. Pegasus Bay does this beautifully with a Bordeaux-inspired blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. This adds great complexity, texture, and some subtle savory notes, as well as extra ageing potential.

With all of these different methods of producing New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, not to mention regional variation (Amisfield, for example, is located in the much cooler climate area of Central Otago, the southernmost wine region in the world), it is easy to see that this small country has something to offer that will please just about any palate. If you’ve written off this grape as a one-trick pony, you may want to give it another try. And if you’re already a fan, there likely are many delicious new styles that you have yet to taste. There has never been a more exciting time to drink these wines, which are still almost criminally affordable even for the very best. Try New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc well-chilled as the summer heats up, paired with salads, fish, vegetables, goat cheese, or just a few good friends and the warmth of the sun.

 

South Africa: New Land of Vines

MeerlustOn a continent that typically brings to mind dry, hot deserts and rainforest jungles, it’s easy to forget that there is also wine. But on the very southern tip of South Africa, vineyards thrive and produce a wide variety of grapes. Though the wines were slow to market due to the embargo on South Africa during apartheid,  the country has managed to solidify its presence as a quality wine producer over the past few decades. As a huge fan of South African wines, I wanted to share a few tips on what to try!

Reds are smokey-meaty:
This is a good thing — fire up the grill! Something about the land in South Africa brings out a gamey character in red wines, like bacon fat or smoked meat, especially in Syrah. Continue reading South Africa: New Land of Vines

Bringing back an old friend: The Wines of Chile have reached a new level

16_02_01 1500 Master Class Chile@Wine.com_3180_BlogWay back in the dark ages of wine retailing (circa: 1970s), fine wine shops had Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. Chile was nowhere to be found and even California was an afterthought. As the years went by and California gained prominence with the Judgement of Paris, Chile got into the marketplace with its cheap Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlots. Often found in sale bins, these became the drinking wines of budget conscious wine imbibers. I drank so much of these bargain basement wines that I ended up throwing the whole class into the “good value” category. As an active retailer in San Francisco in those days, the wines of Chile gave me something “to stack high and let them fly.”

This is no longer the case. Continue reading Bringing back an old friend: The Wines of Chile have reached a new level

Ancient Peaks – California’s newest wine appellation

Domaine Romanee Conti. Chateau Grillet. Santa Margarita Ranch. Okay, so maybe the last one does not ring a bell, but it should! Nestled in the southernmost reaches of Paso Robles lies a single vineyard AVA – Santa Margarita Ranch.  The Margarita Vineyard that inhabits this AVA stands out as the only vineyard located within its own namesake region. This unique vineyard and AVA is the home of Ancient Peaks winery.

santamargaritaWhy should you know about Ancient Peaks? Well, besides the fact that it produces elegant and complex wines, there is a history to the place. First farmed by the Franciscan missionaries in the 1780s, the land took a progressive turn when the Robert Mondavi family saw great potential and planted vines in the region in 1999. Eventually, he sold the land back to the owners and as of now, three families own this winery, vineyard and AVA, which gives them complete control over producing wines distinctive to this unique pocket of California. They are entrepreneurs, ranchers and wine-lovers.

Continue reading Ancient Peaks – California’s newest wine appellation