The Sunshine Of Sauvignon Blanc

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - March 31, 2006
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Today the rain finally stopped and the sunshine has returned. Come to think of it, this is exactly how I think of Sauvignon Blanc. It starts off like smelling of freshly cut grass, or the fresh smell of forest floor after rain. It can also give a scent of wet stone and minerals depending on where it comes from. The scent of flowers and herbs are often associated with Sauvignon Blanc. It should always be crisp and cleansing, like the air after the rain.

It also gives so much exuberant fruitiness when it’s well-made that it can bring sunshine to the palate. Flavors range from grapefruit to guava, passion fruit and poha berry. It also leaves a long impression on the palate, just like seeing the puddles and water on your lawn or sidewalk.

The Sauvignon Blanc grape is grown all over the world, from France to New Zealand, and the U.S. to Italy. It is called different names at times. Sauvignon Blanc is its most recognized name, but many also refer it to as Fume Blanc. Robert Mondavi brought this synonym to the U.S. in the 1960s. His success in marketing it as such is legendary. After traveling the Loire Valley, he found several growers referring to Sauvignon Blanc as Blanc Fume. Fume in French refers to the smoky color that it develops as it ripens. In fact, there is an old appellation in the Loire Valley that still allows for the wine to be called Pouilly Blanc Fume.

Speaking of appellations, let’s look at the first and still the most classic representation of Sauvignon Blanc in the world. That would be from France, more specifically the Loire Valley. Wines in France are named after where they come from, not for what grape goes into making them. The most famous appellations from France made with Sauvignon Blanc are Sancerre and Pouilly Fume. These two areas are both located on the Loire River in the center of France, close to the source of the river itself. Sancerre is on the West Bank and Pouilly Fume is right across the river. Both have a conglomeration of specific soils, limestone, pebbly stone and flint, which are expressed through the greatness of Sauvignon Blanc. These wines should be minerally, vibrant with fruit and herbs. They can range from light to round, but they should always be crisp.

Another appellation in France that is famous for Sauvignon Blanc is Graves in Bordeaux. Here it is often blended with Semillon to give it more body and complexity. It is grown in gravelly soils here and has a lighter, not as pungent or herbal scent to it.

The next area of the world that Sauvignon Blanc has claimed as its classic growing region is New Zealand. Almost every winery in New Zealand makes Sauvignon Blanc, but it has come to find its apogee in the wines of the Marlborough region, which is on the east side of the mountain range that spans the length of the South Island. Cloudy Bay winery is by far the most famous and brings international acclaim and recognition to this corner of the world. These wines are more lush and tropical than those from France - pungent and intensely aromatic, racy - and can rival those of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume.

Of course, we have our own domestic version of Sauvignon Blanc from California. Sauvignon Blanc favors cool growing climates, which allows it to keep its bright acidity. So here it is prevalent in cooler climate areas such as Carneros and Santa Barbara. California Sauvignon/Fume Blanc is distinctive in that many winemakers like to age it in new oak to give it a much rounder, more vanillin and butterscotchy character akin to Chardonnay. Sauvignon Blanc is brilliant with salads and shellfish, especially mussels and clams. It is also an excellent aperitif.

After a hot spell I always welcome the cooling sensation that a rain shower brings, just like a chilled sip of Sauvignon Blanc going down my palate after a hard day’s work.

2004 Regis Minet, Pouilly Fume Vieilles Vignes, Loire Valley, France $17. A very pretty wine from old vines. Flowers, fruits, sweet mineral and grapes all spring to mind. Spring is in the air.

2005 Monkey Bay, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand $10. Super playful, exuberantly fruity, passion-orange-guava like, this is a fun wine. Puns intended.

2004 Duo Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Barbara County, California $14. Soft and fresh, fruity and well-rounded, like a melon crossed with a grapefruit.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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