Sep. 6, 2013 at 1:52 PM ET
Is it possible to find outstanding, $10 wines from California — wines that could be mistaken for bottles that sell for twice as much? I am always on the hunt for such wines, both red and white, although in California especially they are few and far between. But this week, among the new fall releases I tasted, there was one that really stood out.
Robert Mondavi’s 2012 “Private Selection” Sauvignon Blanc from California’s Central Coast is an outstanding value. Paradoxically, as is often the case with wine jargon, Private Selection is the name of the famed winery’s budget-level series, and 60,000 cases of the sauvignon were produced. The wines come with a suggested price of $11, which means you’re likely to find them for a dollar or two less at some stores.
The first thing about this wine is that it has true varietal character, meaning that it tastes like sauvignon blanc. The problem at the lower end is that the wines often taste generic, but that’s not the case here. The sauvignon has an elegance that belies its price, and I can easily imagine serving it at parties or as your house white. Moderate alcohol of 12.5 percent makes it relatively light and easy to drink.
The aromas and tastes are typical of sauvignon blanc — cut grass, lime, pink grapefruit and some green apple. The overall impression is bright and refreshing and the wine has an impressively long finish. A few months of lees aging remove any sharp edges and give it a roundness. There’s a small amount of gewürztraminer (six percent) in the blend and the grapes are sourced from vineyards in Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Mendocino Counties. In wines like this, it’s often about the art of the blend, and this one is a real success. Enjoy it with all kinds of fish and shellfish, grilled chicken, prosciutto and melon and spicy Asian dishes.
Less impressive was the new Private Selection pinot noir release, a fruity wine that lacked the complexity of the sauvignon. But then again, pinot noir is always much harder to get right, especially at this price.