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Sauvignon Blanc Dominates The Value Sweepstakes

By Stephen Eliot

This past winter we here in Northern California have been treated with affair amount of much-needed rain, and the hills and vineyards in wine county are far greener than the calendar might predict. In most areas, bud break is well ahead of ahead of schedule, and more than a few winemakers with whom I have spoken are anticipating one of the earliest harvests on record. While a little more rain and snow in the Sierras would be welcomed by all, I cannot say that I am not pleased by the early spring.

Much has been written about the hoary notions of seasonal wine drinking that mandate heavy reds in winter and lighter wines in warmer months, and, although I enjoy most every style of wine throughout the year, I do find myself reaching more for bright and buoyant whites when the weather starts to warm. And, Sauvignon Blanc gets my vote more often than not.

Despite the fact that the professional wine press rarely treats Sauvignon Blanc as a serious wine, its advocates know that it can be far more than a simple quaff. It is the third most planted white variety here in California, and its legions of devotees are on the rise. According to recent reports, it is the top-selling white wine in the United Kingdom and consumers cannot seem to get enough.

The reasons for Sauvignon Blanc’s world-wide popularity are not at all hard to ken as, when well made, it is distinctive, recognizably varietal and more often than not affords plenty of vinous bang for the buck. It has typically been, by percentage, the recipient of more “Good Value” recommendations in Connoisseurs’ Guide than any other white variety, and the number of outstanding star-rated bottlings priced at $20.00 and less is striking.

Here, then, are ten recent favorites rated at one and two stars that belong on the shopping lists of its fans. Even if the potential for more inclement weather might still exist, it is never too early to start thinking about good Sauvignon Blanc.

PECH MERLE Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley 2014 $19.00
Intensely varietal in its aromatic expressions of kiwi, fresh grass and limes yet pulling up short of pungent excess, this immediately inviting effort impresses even more in the mouth with its fruity depth and firm structure. It favors a bit more tactile weight than is the Sauvignon Blanc norm but is lively and vital every step of the way, and its flavors show great staying power. It is at once juicy and rich and as bright as can be, and its exemplary balance guarantees that it will remain so for a good many more years.

CLENDENEN FAMILY Stallion Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley 2012 $20.00
Showing subtle suggestions of toast, dried hay and grasses rather than running headlong to fresh herbs, this energetic, very well-balanced bottling eschews intense varietal character and is instead a fairly finessed look at the grape that is at once both rich and always light on its feet. Its very deep and continuous flavors never once tilt to excess, and it is a Sauvignon Blanc that will find comfortable service with dishes ranging from milder poultry to shellfish.

CANNONBALL Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County 2014 $15.00
Leaning a little more to ripe melons with a distant intimation of oak and fairly circumspect with regard to herbs and grass, this relatively substantial rendition goes an extra step further than most in terms of overall richness and size. It is nicely balanced for the bigger wine that it is and never once drags its feet, and, if it tightens up a touch at the finish, it has obvious potential for aging. Another year's patience will reveal even more, and it has the look of a Sauvignon that will last and grow with grace.

CLENDENEN FAMILY Mesa Verde Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley 2013 $18.00
Mildly melony fruit and a slightly softer feel separate this one from its brighter, more overly grassy cousins, and it shows a subtle edge of oaky sweetness and a rounded quality that are not par for the Sauvignon Blanc course. In some ways its distantly recalls the texture and fullness of Chardonnay but does not go that far, and its quiet richness compels service with seared scallops or fish fillets napped in creamy sauces.

DRY CREEK VINEYARD Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley 2014 $18.00
Although a bit subdued in the nose and only faintly hinting at a bit of fresh grass, this medium-full-bodied effort surprises with deeper, better-filled, far more expressive flavors than promised and shows a very solid grasp on the weedy, green melon fruit of Sauvignon Blanc. It firms up nicely after a rounded entry and ends with a lengthy, lightly lemony, palate-cleansing finish, and, if tasty now, it should remain bright and lively for several years.

DRY CREEK VINEYARD Fumé Blanc Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County 2014 $14.00
Year in and year out, Dry Creek Vineyard's Fumé Blancs hit the mark for consistent value, and so again is it the case in 2014. The wine is bright, balanced and lively with green melon fruit joined by notes of citrus and green tea, and its grassy accents are never extreme. It is not dramatic but will find wide use at the table, and, as usual, the price is right.

FERRARI-CARANO Fumé Blanc Sonoma County 2014 $14.00
This fresh and very vital young wine makes little claim to serious complexity or show-stopping depth, but it delivers the goods as far as engaging, clean-as-can-be fruit is concerned. Its themes of sweet lemons and green pears are infused with a light touch of tell-tale varietal grassiness, but its principal gift is lively, long-lasting fruit. It has the energy to keep but is thoroughly likeable now and will shine with the lighter foods of summer and spring.

GUENOC Sauvignon Blanc Lake County 2013 $16.00
Ripe, slightly juicy, melon-like fruit is the dominant theme of this wine's moderately intense, mildly herbal aromas and continues as the focal point of its ample, well-focused flavors. While more rounded than crisp in construction, it is never sluggish or soft and sports a nice complement of balancing acidity, and it will make enjoyable drinking with the likes of simply grilled chicken and poached salmon served with a sauce verte.

LONGBOARD Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley 2014 $20.00
Charged for youthful freshness and keenly fixed on melons and pears in the nose and strengthening its fruity grasp once in the mouth, the Longboard Sauvignon Blanc is a supple, well-balanced bottling of fine definition and depth. It is moderately full-bodied, nicely ripened and shows a touch of oak while holding varietal grassiness to a minimum, and, if substantial enough to pair with richer foods like salmon and swordfish, it is a vital and carefully composed wine that never strays even slightly to heaviness.

SHANNON RIDGE High Elevation Collection Sauvignon Blanc Lake County 2014 $19.00
Although at first fairly mild and slow to start in the nose, this one gains fruity traction with air and blossoms to show a pleasant mix of green melons, grass and a hint of green tea that is carried forward in its slightly rich, moderately deep, varietally articulate flavors. It is on the full and slightly soft side in balance but does not stall out at the finish, and its essential richness steers it to service with chicken and meaty fish rather than oysters and milder shellfish that its zestier cousins commend.

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