If I had to pick one well-known white wine variety that I could go back to time after time for a broad range of food pairings as well as everyday drinking, it would be sauvignon blanc hands down.
The grape is inherently interesting, with its signature notes of gooseberry and lime, and is made in a number of styles, from the fresh and zesty non-oaked wines of New Zealand, Chile and Entre-Deux-Mers in Bordeaux, to the mineral-driven sauvignons of the Loire Valley, to the many variations found in California, including a good number made with oak aging.
Sauvignon purists often turn their noses up at the idea of giving the wines wood exposure and, to be honest, I used to be one of them. But these days, I continue to find delicious examples of barrel-aged sauvignon blanc from California, including a couple of notable wines that I’ve tasted in recent weeks, along with some notable new releases of steel-fermented wines.
A good place to start is with a couple of relatively inexpensive wines. One is the 2007 Sauvignon from Tenuta Ca’ Bolani in the Aquileia zone of Friuli in northeastern Italy. This $15 wine, made without oak, is elegant, with notes of pear, tropical fruits and touches of vanilla and spice. It’s perfect for simple fish and shellfish dishes, including clam sauce.
Also notable, at $12, is Kendall-Jackson’s 2008 “Vintner’s Reserve” Sauvignon Blanc, a California blend mainly from Lake County, with small amounts of semillon, viognier and chardonnay in the mix. Part of the blend was fermented and aged in oak, which gives the wine a nice roundness while keeping the overall impression fresh.
Cloudy Bay is New Zealand’s most famous sauvignon blanc and helped put the country, particularly the Marlborough region, on the wine map when it released its first sauvignon in the 1980s. When friends brought a bottle of the 2008 vintage to dinner the other night I was eager to try it again. “Racy but elegant,” I wrote in my notes. “Gooseberry, lime, honeysuckle, vanilla and bell pepper; lasting, mineral finish; crisply acidic; superb, quintessential New Zealand sauvignon blanc.” Wine-searcher.com, a good Web resource for prices and availability, especially if you subscribe to the “pro version,” lists the wine starting at around $20 with an average price of $30.
If I were asked to choose a California counterpart to Cloudy Bay in terms of stature if not style, it would be the 2008 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc from Merry Edwards. At $30 (the price offered at the winery), this rich but balanced sauvignon is like no other. Fully barrel fermented, it is lush and opulent while refreshing, showing notes of honeydew melon, pear, pineapple, vanilla and a touch of orange. For availability contact the winery at merryedwards.com.
Another standout from the Russian River Valley, and a great value at $22, is Chateau St. Jean’s 2007 Fumé Blanc, La Petite Etoile Vineyard, which is also barrel fermented and aged (fumé blanc is another term for sauvignon). This, too, is made in an opulent style with fascinating exotic spice aromas and notes of apple, fig and dried apricot that made it an excellent match with grilled curried chicken breasts.
These five wines demonstrate the range and versatility of sauvignon blanc and why it deserves consideration in any number of food contexts calling for white wine, from sushi in its non-oaked examples to roasted chicken and turkey with fall vegetables in its barrel-aged versions. And that reminds me: Thanksgiving is coming. Some thoughts on wines in my next column.
Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at . Find more wine reviews by Edward Deitch at his blog, .