Tag Archives: sauvignon blanc

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.


The legend of Fume Blanc

One of the reasons I love wine is its combination of history, geography, biology, chemistry and marketing. Yes, marketing. Though many romanticize about wine in its purest form, with what’s inside the bottle marketing itself, the fact is wine is a beverage that sees plenty of marketing – through traditional marketing channels, wine publications and even pop-culture (remember Merlot’s demise after Sideways?).

The original bottle look for Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc
The original bottle look for Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc

One of my favorite stories in the marketing world of wine is that of Fume Blanc. In the late 1960s, Sauvignon Blanc suffered a negative reputation. It was too sweet, or too grassy, poorly made, hard to pronounce, and generally avoided by many wine drinkers. About this time, the late, great Robert Mondavi had an opportunity to produce some promising Sauvignon Blanc. Though he knew it would be delicious, he also wanted to sell it, and labeling it as Sauvignon Blanc may not do the trick. Taking a cue from the Sauvignon Blanc-saturated region of Pouilly Fume in France, Mondavi labeled his wine Fume Blanc and used that name for his SB, which was dry-fermented and aged in oak barrels.

Since you’ve most likely seen a bottle of Fume Blanc, you probably know that this marketing decision paid off and easily accounts for Sauvignon Blanc’s popularity today. Mondavi did not trademark the term, so other wineries jumped on the bandwagon, crafting Sauvignon Blanc in the same style and using the Fume Blanc term. These days, Sauvignon Blanc enjoys a stellar reputation and is proudly displayed on labels in California. But many, particularly those established wineries with a few decades under their belt, still use the Fume Blanc moniker for their Sauvignon Blanc. What’s the difference? Though there are plenty of exceptions (as there always are), Fume Blanc typically sees a bit of oak and displays rounder, richer, more melon-like flavors. Sauvignon Blanc aims to bring out the grassy and sharper citrus aromatics of the varietal.

The California wine industry owes much to Robert Mondavi, but the story of Fume Blanc remains one of my favorites to show this legend’s bright mind and influence on California wine. It’s spring, so pick up a bottle of Fume Blanc and toast the man who brought it to life!


Fried Chicken goes with…

Well, warm weather is here, really here and I am feeling a bit like fried chicken and a salad on the side, of course. Today, I enjoyed lunch with two Wine.com pals of mine (Anne and Alma) and was thinking of what would work with fried chicken. Both Alma and I order the fried chicken sandwich, which was pretty good. Anne got the mussels, which she enjoyed 14_04_01 1130 Book Signing_Coqueta_5000_Blogimmensely. Since I was in a meeting mode, I didn’t have wine at lunch. Nonetheless, I’d opt for an Oregon Pinot Gris with what Alma and I had ordered. It would also have done well with Anne’s mussels. King Estate Pinot Gris comes to mind, though I really love the idea of matching this dish with one of my favorite Napa Valley Sauvignon BlancsHonig. This picture is the 2013, but every vintage is winner! #pinotgris #kingestate #friedchicken #mussels #pinotgrigio @wine_com

The Odd Couple: Strip Steak & Sancerre

Wine people seem to always ask other wine people to recall their most memorable wine, or their most exciting wine pairing . I always falter with the first, being lucky enough to have had many an amazing wine memories, but the second I have nailed down. I was in Genoa, Italy with my now-husband after we’d just missed our outbound train to Nice. We had just learned that driving in Italy has a learning curve and we were very far down on it. We found a hotel nearby, wandered the streets and settled on a lovely little restaurant, where we found a most agreeable sommelier. Ordering the local steak, he suggested we pair it with a Sauvignon Blanc from Alto-Adige. Sorry? Don’t you have a more suitable suggestion that might be RED? He asked us to trust him on this. To this day, that pairing is my most memorable. Simple, grilled, local meat and a delicious, local white wine. Not the pairing you would expect, but it was one that wowed. So it makes sense that the other night I found a similar delight.

After the initial sticker shock of realizing how much I just spent on grass-fed NY strip steak at Whole Foods, my husband set out to find a suitable big, blustery Cabernet worthy of drinking with $50 steaks. But the Cabernet was just making the cut for me. So I poured some of the Sancerre we’d brought home and voila. A match. The Sancerre on its own had faltered a little too close to all grass, no fruit and a bit too acidic. One sip after the steak, the fruit coated my mouth, the acidity cut through the fat of the steak and the wine was twice as good as before. It brought me back to that time in Genoa, nearly 10 years ago, and reminded me that food and wine pairing is not a science, it is an art. And one NY strip may taste well with a Cab, but mine was shining with my Sancerre.

Staff Pick: Hall Helps Ease the Pain of Black Eyed Peas Super Bowl Half-Time Show

Wine: Hall Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Reviewer: Alma Leon – Wine Buyer
Paired with:  Super Bowl party fare – Guacamole, pretzels, dips & pizza etc.
Rating: 3 stars

Review:   The smartest thing I did yesterday was to take this wine to yesterday's Super Bowl party.  This VERY good California Sauvignon Blanc helped me make it through a rough 15 minutes.  Don’t let the 3 stars fool you,   I don’t hand out very many 4 or 5 stars, so 3 stars to me means a fantastic wine that I can enjoy without  having to worry about my wine budget.  It’s my version of “Two thumbs up!”  The best thing about this wine is that it proves that great Sauvignon Blanc can be produced in California.  My biggest complaint about domestic Sauvignon Blanc is that it can be extremely tropical on the nose, thanks to our warm climate.  Meaning it can be difficult to pair with food and a bit like standing next to a person with too much perfume on a crowded elevator.  Hall has managed delicate grapefruit, guava and lemon aromas in a medium-bodied wine.  There is a creaminess to it that ends with fresh acidity.  In short, it is well-balanced and likely to impress a wide variety of palates.  Although I went for the gusto and tried it with party food,  I could see this going great with lump crab meat on a buttered roll or even gnocchi in a creamy white sauce.

Read more of my reviews on my Wine.com community page