Washington holds an embarrassment of sauv blanc riches
Wine columnist Paul Gregutt says recent vintages have been very fine for lovers of high acid, peppery/crisp white wines.
Special to the Seattle Times
Pick of the week
Guy Saget 2010 La Petite Perriere Sauvignon Blanc; $10
SAGET IS Loire-based, though this simple country wine bears only a Vin de France appellation. No worries; it's a perfect au revoir to summer (such as it's been). Light, clean, refreshing, ready to be chilled and sipped without any fuss. (Unique Wines distributes)
MY LOVE affair with sauvignon blanc began, as so many love affairs do, in Paris. I was wandering around some nebulous arrondissement, lost and thirsty, and I came upon a bistro/wine bar with the inviting name of Quincy.
To my delight, the chalkboard was filled with a thoughtful selection of wines by the glass, which turned out to be various sauvignon blancs from — you guessed it — Quincy. Pronounced CAN-see (not quinn-see), it's a region in the eastern Loire Valley, not far from Sancerre. On a subsequent trip to France, I made it my goal to visit Sancerre, and forever after have believed those wines to be the finest expressions of sauvignon blanc in the world.
Sadly, the dry, steely, mineral-infused sauv blancs from Sancerre and neighboring Pouilly Fumé have become too pricey for everyday drinking. The bargains, if they are to be found, will come from nearby regions such as Quincy, Menetou-Salon and Reuilly. Look for such widely available producers as Henri Bourgeois, Alphonse Mellot, Vincent Pinard, Pascal Reverdy and Henry Pellé.
For some tasters, the appeal of the sauvignon blanc grape is severely restricted. The Old World highlights that appeal to me — bracing acidity, minerality and herbaceousness — are not for everyone (but if you love oysters, believe me, you'll love these wines). American sauv blancs, not surprisingly, tend to fall into a whole different camp.
For a time they tasted, as often as not, like chardonnay wannabes — barrel-fermented and aged, oaked and buttered to the point that all varietal definition was lost. But the current trends to stainless-steel fermentation, crisp fruit flavors and moderate levels of alcohol work really well for domestic sauv blancs, and I find delicious examples across all price ranges. They no longer taste like cheap chardonnay, nor are they ripened past varietal character. The grassy/herbal flavors may be there, but in proportion. Overall, these are wines with juicy acidity, bright fruit flavors of melon, green apple and grapefruit, and alcohol generally in the mid-13 percent range.
Of course, most of the big California brands include a sauvignon blanc in the lineup, and the price is usually right at around $7 or $8. Few of these, however, deliver anything but rather watery, generic flavors. They are not bad, but not particularly good, either.
Some recommended new releases (all under $20) are the 2009 and/or 2010 sauvignon blancs from Benziger, Clos Pegase, Girard, Guenoc, Matanzas Creek, Mondavi, Navarro, Patianna and Voss. As is so often the case, the best value in an under-$10 bottle is Bogle's. Though simply labeled California — meaning the grapes have been sourced from here, there and everywhere — Bogle's 50,000-case offering captures the varietal flavors of pear, tangerine and green apple, with fresh acidity and some finishing spice notes.
Here in Washington we have an embarrassment of sauv blanc riches. Recent (2009/2010) vintages have been very fine for lovers of high acid, peppery/crisp white wines. My top-rated Washington sauv blancs under $10 (in order of preference) are: Barnard Griffin 'Fumé,' Washington Hills, Chateau Ste. Michelle 'Columbia Valley,' Hogue and Snoqualmie.
My top-rated Washington sauv blancs over $10 (in order of preference) are: Woodward Canyon, Efesté 'Feral,' Barrister 'Klipsun,' Cadaretta 'sbs,' Novelty Hill 'Stillwater Creek,' Woodinville Wine Cellars; Stevens, Apex Ascent, Jones of Washington, Ardenvoir, Chateau Ste. Michelle 'Horse Heaven Vineyard,' Guardian Cellars 'Angel' and Waterbrook.
The most thrilling so far this summer was Barrister's 2010 Klipsun Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($19). This boutique, Spokane-based producer sources rare, old-vine Red Mountain grapes and makes a wine that could and should, all by itself, catapult Washington sauv blanc to global superstardom.
About Wine Adviser
My column is all about sharing the joy of exploring all the world of wine. I want to guide people to make inspired choices, and encourage them to try as many different styles of wine as they can. I will always seek out the best wines at the best prices. Wine Adviser runs on Sunday in Pacific Northwest Magazine.