Summer’s Take on Sauvignon Blanc by Rick Riozza
If I’m dreaming about the “wines of summer”, the quintessential summer white, Sauvignon Blanc plays a heavy role. But it is a light wine that tends to be very fresh and crisp with juicy fruit flavors. With naturally high acidity, Sauvignon Blanc is always tangy, tart, nervy, racy, or zesty keeping it from being cloying and sticky-tasting.
These elements combine to produce a wonderfully refreshing wine with an affinity for food, particularly those we love in the warm summer months: crudités, salads, light pastas, seafood and the riches that come from the bounty of our garden—or from the local farmers’ market.
The wine is very versatile and can handle components such as tomatoes, bell peppers, cilantro, raw garlic, smoked cheeses or other pungent flavors that would clash with or overpower many Chardonnays and a lot of other dry whites. In fact, Sauvignon Blanc is probably the best choice for dry white wine to accompany the greatest variety of foods.
Sushi comes to mind, and if you’re not thinking sake or a cold beer, try a chilled Sauv blanc. And on the kitchen or patio table, bring out your fresh cheeses—especially the goat cheeses like “chevre”, which pairs wonderfully.
It’s also a great “grilling wine”—meaning, if I don’t have an ice cold beer in my hand while grilling outside, I better have a really chilled Sauv Blanc in place of it!
There are more than a few styles of Sauvignon Blanc and many regions around the world produce wine with a recognizable and distinct character. Check out the international scene:
New Zealand has a very fruit forward style featuring pineapple, gooseberry, fresh chilies, grass and even some Kiwi. This wine has emerged as an affordable, appealing, easy drinking yet full flavored quaff.
When I was over at The Wine Bar in Old Town in La Quinta for CV’s “interactive Chardonnay tasting” a few weeks ago, owner Robert Mott was very generous to pour some Sauvignon Blanc.
Currently, he’s pouring a wine flight of white wines which includes New Zealand’s Cloudy Bay 2011. How about these tasting notes: “ Pale straw green in color and enticingly fragrant, it offers lifted aromas of ripe stonefruit and juicy citrus with underlying notes of blackcurrant leaf and tomato plant spice. The palette is fine yet succulent, with zesty citrus flavors, fresh acidity and a crisp finish.” I just went outside to sniff my tomato plant—yep! That’s the fragrance.
South Africa is a source for steely, mineral and citrus styled wines although there is a concerted effort on the part of many producers to emulate the more fruit driven style of New Zealand.
Fisherman’s Market & Grill in Palm Desert sells Two Oceans Sauvignon Blanc produced in the famed Western Cape where climate from the warm Indian Ocean fuses with the icy cold Atlantic. It’s similar to Cloudy Bay but less intense on all levels and sells at a good price, about $18 a bottle/$5 a glass
France’s wine growing regions sprawl across its northern reaches. One could write all summer long on these delicious wines. Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé are the names of some of the best Sauvignon Blanc in the Loire Valley. These may very well be the epitome of the grape, full of fruit, mineral, and floral aromas and with a finesse and balance that makes them compelling and complex world-class wines.
Wine Spectator gave 91 Points to Pierrre Deschamps Sancerre 2010. “Soft on the nose with a nice floral element and an almost red plum quality to the aromatic fruit. Shows flashes of Meyer lemon, sweet lime and seashells. There’s a soft mineral cut that adds texture to the palate, which shows some sour apricot and peach tones before adding a peach pit element on the moderately long finish.” Talk about a “sexy” wine!

California is typically quite a mouth-full. Getting to know the traits of the various regions can help you decipher the riddle that is California Sauvignon Blanc. Generally you’ll have to look to climates to determine the type of wine that strikes your fancy. Also, utilizing a little bit of wood barrel (fumé) adds depth, a creamy texture, and orchard fruit tones.
• Warm climate – Round and lush with lower acids, grassy and more tropical and citrus fruit notes, but towards the pink grapefruit and orange end of the spectrum as is common throughout much of California.
• Moderate climate – Crisp and fruity, higher acid, more green flavors such as kiwi and goosberry such as one finds in New Zealand.
• Cool climate – Bracing and mineral with citrus notes that tend to the lemon/lime range and are accompanied by mineral and herb notes. The classic profile for the Loire Valley.
Napa Valley’s rather warm climate produces rich, soft wines that benefit from the added depth a bit of oak ageing contributes to the final wine. At The Wine Bar in Old Town, Robert’s pouring
the Groth Vineyard Napa Valley 2011 in his white wine flight.

This delicious Groth is both a fun & wonderful wine blend of both the warmer and colder regions of Napa. The warmer Napa Valley microclimates provide a lush, full melon/citrus character in the aroma and in the flavor. The cooler Napa Valley fruit gives a solid, crisp backbone that gives the wine an exciting liveliness and balances the rich creaminess from oak.

With its southern edge wide open to the San Pablo bay, Sonoma Valley’s rolling hills offer a moderate climate that allows Sauvignon Blanc to get fully ripe, losing some of its aggressive herbal character, yet retaining juicy acidity and crisp fruit flavors.

In the North of Sonoma County lies the Dry Creek Valley, home of some of California’s finest Sauvignon Blanc. The combination of moderate temperatures and gravelly, sandy soils produces brilliant wines with classic hints of gooseberry & Meyer lemon, grassy with ripe golden fruit.

Here’s to a refreshing quaff! Cheers!
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