By Rick Riozza

No one needs the weatherman to tell you the hot dog days of August are upon us.  As your friendly neighborhood wine steward, I typically see a lot of white wine gathered up and whisked outside the store and there’s a close race as to popularity between the new darling of the wine world—rosé,  and, probably the honorary white wine of our desert—Sauvignon Blanc.

We always cover the waterfront on the rosé scene, and we’ll no doubt write on some tasty current rosé releases in a couple of weeks.  But right now as we write, a Sauv Blanc is just what the wine doctor ordered.

Crisp, dry and oh so refreshing, Sauvignon Blanc is one of the most popular varieties of white wine. Ranging from grassy to tropical fruit flavors, as mentioned above, it may be our favorite wine to drink in the summer.

It’s kind of fun to acknowledge in wine heritage lore (wine DNA studies are all over the place) that Sauv Blanc along with Cabernet Franc are indeed the “parents” of Cabernet Sauvignon which accounts for its merged name.  Anyway, the Sauv Blanc grape is thought to have originated in France. While Bordeaux and the Loire Valley still produce excellent examples, our desert dwellers are well aware that tasty Sauvignon Blanc can be found all over the world. New Zealand in particular has excelled in the past decade, but California is simply the behemoth in the Sauv Blanc world.

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The variety is also known as Fume Blanc in a few wine circles—which caused a bit of confusion for Californians and we’ll get to that fun discussion in a bit.

But, so many of you enjoy the Sauv Blancs from all over the place, however, there appears to be a particular group that do not find the Kiwi/New Zealand Sauv Blanc pleasant at all. In fact, they are adamant and have sworn to never taste that region’s Sauv Blanc again! Jeez! 

That kind of reminds me of those individuals who find the herb, cilantro, distasteful.  I know–most folks love its flavor in pico de gallo salsa, street tacos and in Asian fare.  But studies have found that there is a small segment of the population with an olfactory receptor “gene” who find cilantro soapy tasting and extremely distasteful.

So—perhaps, it’s the same with Kiwi Sauv Blanc which can surely hold some bold flavors such as sweet passion fruit, jalapeño, grapefruit, boxwood/cat urine, grass, mineral/flinty, citrus, mint, fresh asparagus, and snow pea. That’s a taste ensemble for sure but wildly popular for most of us in a refreshing chilled wine.

Back in the 60s, when Americans were beginning to warm up to everyday wine consumption, Sauvignon Blanc was hardly a wine anyone had heard of.  Sure, it was around since the late 1800s, but it was considered a boring variety, mainly used for sweet wine production which satisfied most Americans back then.

But, leave it to the great Robert Mondavi, both wine maker and businessman, to recognize the potential of the grape and decided to produce a quality dry Sauvignon Blanc in 1960s.  Of course, his first aim of business was to avoid the negative image of the variety name ‘Sauvignon Blanc’.  Thinking outside of the box, Mondavi decided to invent another name for the variety.  Hey—that’s how you do it!

He took the French word ‘Fumé’, referring to a smoke-like vapour or substance and also ran with the name of Pouilly-Fumé of the Loire Valley, and, the French for white, as in ‘blanc’.  And in order to differentiate and distinguish his Sauvignon Blanc from other wine countries, Robert Mondavi decided to age this variety in oak barrels.

And here’s the kicker: Mondavi didn’t register the name as his own trademark, so more people can use this name, according to the winery. It worked. The name became popular and more and more producers started aging their dry Sauvignon Blanc in (old and new) oak barrels, and selling it as ‘Fumé Blanc’. Therefore, the name has been more commonly associated with oak-aged Sauvignon Blanc from the US ever since.

Of course, the August white wine to celebrate this article is indeed the 2017 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Fumé Blanc (around $17). (Another wonderful Sauvignon Blanc that I’m enjoying is from Cakebread Cellars.  But I’m preparing an article on their portfolio, so I’ll wait and talk about their Sauv Blanc for that piece.)

The 2017 Mondavi Napa Valley Fumé Blanc is absolutely delicious and so refreshing.  It’s what we desert dwellers crave for in the heat of the day.  The aroma is what you also get in the palate: of course aromatic, and showing white summer peaches, Meyer lemon citrus, tangerine zest, floral, very light herbs, and a hint of gooseberry.  It’s a blend of 85% Sauvignon Blanc and15% Semillon.  And it’s especially dry—great for summer meals.

For you Napa Valley enthusiasts, you’re happy to hear that the fruit is from Wappo Hill vineyard which brings the bright citrus and herbal touch, and, from their renowned To Kalon vineyard in Oakville which brings richness, weight, age-ability and increased complexity, with layers of floral, herbal, and mineral flavors to the blend.

We were eager to pair the Fumé Blanc with one of the best summer meals around. You foodies are on to Vietnamese fare and Bún Thịt Nướng is a popular and one of the tastiest Vietnamese dishes composed of cold rice-vermicelli noodle topped with grilled pork, fresh herbs like basil and mint, fresh salad, and seasoned fish sauce. Also, the dish is topped with roasted peanuts.  

The combination of flavors from the Mondavi Fumé Blanc and the “Bun” was the bomb!  The flavors and freshness of the plate and wine matched wonderfully.  Cheers!